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LITERATURE REVIEW INTRODUCTION Terrorism

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The purpose of this study was to investigate effects of terrorism as a threat to tourism industry in Arusha region. The study adapted a survey design, with a descriptive approach. Data was collected through a questionnaire which was tested through a pilot study before it was administered. The result of the pilot study was 0.751 mean Cronbach Alpha coefficients. Probability sampling was used to get the sample size of 103 workers from the selected tour operating companies in Arusha region. The findings revealed that bombing, armed attacks and assassination, arsons and fire bombings were the types of terrorist activities that took place in Arusha region. It was also found that terrorist activities affected tourism industry in Arusha region, and that the level of the threat was moderate. The study concluded that terrorist activities have effects on tourism industry, its effects causes decline of tourism industry, decrease in foreign exchange, decrease in tourist arrivals, drop of income of tour operating companies, and change of tourist behavior due to risk. The study recommended that government should strengthen its security system and intelligence unity so as whenever there is sign of terrorist activities they got alert and take some serious measures to prevent them. Tour operators should make sure that they have correct travelling information about their destination before they embark on their tour to come Tanzania so as to avoid terrorist to come to our country by the name of tourists.

literature review on terrorism

Prof Kapil Kumar

ABSTRACT Security at a destination has always been a major factor in destination choice. However, till a few years back the security factors taken into consideration by the tourists would include mugging, petty crimes like theft, pick-pocketing, etc. as the tourists’ life was not endangered even at the worst politically instable destinations. Such concerns had a minimal impact on tourism forecasts as to some extent most of the destinations suffer from one or the other. Today, the security concerns have undergone a thorough change because of global terrorism where not only the individual tourists are being shot or kidnapped but they are being massacred in hundreds by the so-called jehadis. The Bali bombings and the most recent terrorist raids in Mumbai can be cited here along with many other destinations that have born the brutality of terrorist attacks. In fact, what is being attacked by these global terrorists is the very psyche of leisure and holiday-making which they consider as a threat to their self-perceived notions of their own religion. No doubt, the terror and destruction created by them has not only destroyed the economies at the destinations in terms of infrastructure, jobs, and small businesses and so on but considerably reduced the tourist arrivals. Actually speaking, one terrorist attack undoes the entire destination planning leading to a failure of all forecasts or projections. Similarly, at certain destinations, natural disasters like Tsunami, diseases and wars have also led to the undoing of tourism forecasts. However, their impact has not been long lasting as compared to the damage done by terrorism. Hence, it has become crucial to take into account the terrorist threat while working out the forecasts related to tourist mobility and any planning that is done for infrastructural development at a destination. For example, the paper provides evidence through field studies that the destination choices of backpackers and the low budget tourists are much less affected by terrorism threats than that of the up-budget and middle-budget tourists. This paper after citing some attacks on tourist destinations and their impacts on tourists’ mobility and choice takes into account the need for incorporating certain preventive measures against terrorism in planning for tourism in different areas. It further raises the issue of bearing the costs in this regard. You can’t pass on the costs of security on the tourists and the industry is still reluctant to contribute for this as providing security is seen as a state subject. In such a situation how do you go about is a challenge to all players in tourism and needs to be tackled at the earliest. Similarly, there is a need to inculcate anti–terrorism measures in tourism curricula being taught in the universities, training and retraining programmes in the industry and also in Management development programmes. It discusses the types and levels for such training and programmes. The paper also stresses on the need to generate awareness against terrorism along with some preventive measures as pre and post terrorist attack tasks.

The paper examined the impact of global security and socio-economic development in terrorist prone regions. The study adopted the qualitative method which is hinged on historical and descriptive analysis. The theory that was used for this study is the realist theory by Hans Morgenthau and amplified by Kenneth Waltz. The paper contended that terrorism breeds insecurity and impedes sustainable national development. The paper noted that terrorism engenders loss of lives, threat to public safety, economic sabotage, capital and investment flight, negative perception of the terrorists’ prone states on international scene with attendant negative consequences on trade, tourism and foreign direct investment (FDI). Moreover, the analysis revealed that a number of factors including sources of funding, ideology, religion, and idleness contribute to increase in global terrorism which in turn endangers the prospects of progress with resultant economic misfortunes, closure of businesses and unempl...

rabia hayat

Maximiliano E. Korstanje

This book is about tourism security and risk perception in religious festivals, see furtherly on Korstanje, M. E., Raj, R., & Griffin, K. (Eds.). (2018). Risk and Safety Challenges for Religious Tourism and Events. CABI.

Book TOURISM, TERRORISM AND SECURITY. Korstanje M. Seraphin H. 2020 Emerald Group Publishing.

Ignacio J . Martinez-Moyano

The global concern over the threat of terrorism by physical destruction and losses, deaths, suffering to humanity, economic loss, insecurity, and the general challenge to social order and polity in the society cannot be underscored. As most countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are churned in civil conflicts, Kenya has remained relatively peaceful for decades and played host to millions of refugees fleeing neighboring countries. However, since 1998, terrorism-related activities have been on the rise in the country posing a major threat to national security and development. The impact of terrorism cuts across social, cultural, economic and political lens of the society. The nature of terrorist activities in Kenya has been changing and escalating in magnitude, leaving many innocent citizens as victims, while in some incidences, the country held at ransom by the terror groups. With over 15 years of experience on terror attacks, Kenya is becoming more vulnerable and easy target for terror gro...

The chapter explores the problem of terrorism and security in tourism fields. Certainly, plans and policies provided by guidebooks are not being followed in disasters. Simply chaos and disorder are the nature of emergencies. Beyond any protocol, crises and security are not properly defined by scholars. In this essay-review, the authors do not define what tourism security means. Instead, they view it through the lens of three senior scholars, Sevil Somnez, Abraham Pizam, and Peter Tarlow, who have accomplished this task. They have explored not only the roots of terrorism but also security over 20 years. Despite the criticism, they deserve recognition for this legacy. Based on substantial point of divergence, these specialists are concerned by the financial dependency of societies respecting mass media and its coverage of terrorist attacks.

Razaq Raj , Ayesha Chowdhury

Curiously, while tourism is cited as the world’s largest industry (UNWTO, 2016), it is simultaneously a fragile industry that is highly vulnerable to the impact of the ongoing threat of terrorism. Internationally, terrorism influences the tourist mind-set in a number of ways, in particular it creates fear for travellers and causes economic and social impacts to change the behaviour of people and dissuade them from visiting certain places in the world. Thus, the impact of terrorism has caused tremendous damage to the travel industry. A number of countries which previously depended quite heavily on the tourism industry are suffering in terms of economic development. This paper discusses critical issues related to terrorism, that are faced by travellers to religious and sacred sites. The paper will illustrate the impact of recent terrorism phenomena upon travellers in two ways: first, the potential personal hazards to travellers caused by terrorist incidents; second, the impacts caused by stringent anti-terrorism laws and security measures, to travellers while they are in transit. Key Words: terrorism, impact, tourism, law, incitement, religious tourism

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Terrorism Literature Reviews Samples For Students

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Intersectionality is one of the woman’s libbers and the most propagative conception of the critical race theory. Women of color formations are compelled to address Intersectionality and the mutual and complex interactions of race, class, gender and sexuality (Lowe & Lloyd, 1997, p.310). Many feminists debate that a kind consideration of intersectionality is an important element to gain equality in politics and community, and also to improve the autonomous system.

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War has been argued to be a force that is responsible for the punctuation of our life, binding us to our inconsistence moral failing. Diplomats consider war to be the very last resort after other alternatives have been comprehensively exhausted in an attempt to attain consensus in the event of a disagreement between parties (Hedge).

This kind of war that is as a result of exhaustion of other available options in a bid to arrive at a consensus is what is termed as just war, since its conduction is justified by the failure of other available options to establish agreements between disagreeing parties.

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Terrorism Literature review

Terrorism Literature review

Terrorism and organized crime have always been considered two separate entities of consideration in the addressing of government securities issues either locally or internationally. In fact, in the 1960s, during the humble beginnings of the Federal Bureau of investigation, the United States government considered terrorism and organized crime so separate that while there were hundreds of agents dedicated to addressing the issues of communism and various terrorist activities that threaten the borders of the United States, only five police officers — and those officers were low ranking individuals without any specific tasks and duties — that were responsible for addressing the issue of organized crime.

Therefore, from here, we immediately observed at history has taught us the progression of terrorism and organized crime to its modern derivatives — that the two significantly different in exclusive individuals have now merged into various avenues. Although they could not be conceptually considered as one — separate agencies are still responsible for addressing issues separately terrorism and organized crime, literature and evidence showed that such do operational procedures have intersections all over their operations. In fact, the literature which this research paper shall be using — literature that is taken both from peer-reviewed journals and academic publishing books —  points towards not only on the existence of intersections between terrorism and organized crime, but also in this degree that it has done so both from a historical perspective and a modern one.

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As we have already pointed out earlier, the history of terrorism and organized crime are considered to be so separate in nature that individuals who had specialized and studied those two derivatives and be suddenly transported to the present will find it surprising that the two actually intersect. Terrorism are international movements or threats to use violence against civilians to achieve certain goals — often political in nature. The word itself, driving from the roots of terror, comes from the fact that fear is the main weapon that was used by terrorists — although conventional wisdom may come to point towards terrorist threats having weapons of destruction as their most essential tools. However, in the history of terrorism, the most essential aspect is its ability — either successful or unsuccessful — to be able to influence governments and political decision-makers. In order to be able to achieve this, terrorist activities use various means and methods. However, in today’s modern economy where the most powerful and influential decision-making tool is monetary assets and financial control, an essential aspect of terrorist activities is the financial control and financial manipulation of assets in order to be able to continuously find such terrorist goals. This is an essential aspect of terrorism which must be remembered especially when comparing it to the integration of modern organized crime to this movement. Basically, the number one highlights of terrorism both in historical and modern context, is the desire to influence public opinion and political decision-making.

Organized crime, on the other hand, being a criminal element that started in the United States only in the early 1960s, is criminal activity that has transformed from this aggregated activities and operations into an agglomeration form and focuses on highly centralized operations run by criminals for the purpose of engaging in illegal activity. Although the literature that has been used points toward many purposes of organized crime, they at least agree with each other that organized crime as the purpose of being able to raise monetary profit. In order to do this, various criminal activities such as drug trafficking, gambling, bribing, institution of violence, and even the molding of political and public opinions are use. Therefore, in understanding organized crime, the most important factor to consider is that it uses various tools in order to be able to gain monetary profit.

It is here that the research immediately identifies essential differentiating factor — as well as the common denomination — a terrorism and organized crime. One reason is money in order to affect public opinion and political decisions, while the other uses public opinion and political decisions in order to raise money. Although this may be a simplistic view of being able to differentiate and compare and contrast organisms and terrorist crime, it at least gives an essential point of view in where those two elements intersect with each other.

In a study published in 1996, researchers have tried to analyze the intersections between terrorism and organized crime to understanding the nature, methods, structural dynamics, and danger of each form of terrorism as well as each form of criminal activity. Here, the study has identified that terrorist groups are usually ideologically motivated while organized crime groups have no ideological foundation but rather have the sole purpose of being able to raise large monetary assets [1]. Also, an economics part of approaching the difference, organized crime groups usually want bigger shares of illegal markets rather than being able to have a long-running ideological system or political purpose in mind — and these activities are usually not based on market principles. Another interesting fact that their research has identified is that political terrorists brought to trial usually immediately admit their deeds and use the courtroom as a forum for political declarations in the public sphere, where in members of organized crime groups typically try to downplay the degree of operations and involvement in the crime. However, at least approaching the issue from economics, the true groups are rational actors that have intersections with regard to how they are able to find their operations through intimidation, violence, and illegal to the peace such as drug trafficking and weapons distribution in the population [2].

In another study that was published in 2004, researchers again tried to find similarities between international terrorism activities as well as organized crime because of continuous interest on the war on terror — especially their manipulations of the various financial flows and the ways that these two separate groups are able to raise financial assets [3]. In this study, researchers have identified that because these two groups, although having separate ideologies and separate and goals, must have the same market of financial distribution in order to be fully successful at least from the point of view of being able to build their financial base. In this respect, because illegal markets especially in first world countries like the United States have typical segregationist and geographic locations, activities of terrorist financing and organized crime financing usually intersect with one another in order to generate significantly larger monetary profits as compared to acting alone. Furthermore, criminal activities such as drug dealing and weapons distribution usually have high-level individuals which control them in the final decision-making process — individuals that either belong to a terrorist organization or a organized crime element. And because such illegal markets must be able to interact with one another in order to maximize the profits of certain markets, terrorism and organized crime eventually intersect at least from the perspective of financial flow and manipulation [4].

Yet another study was earlier published in 2002 discussing that it is methods and not go to this which are the most important implications as the convergence and intersection of international organized crime and local terrorism [5]. This reference effectively captures the earlier hypothesis that methodologies are the most important intersections of the two groups. However, in this study, an essential highlighting fact is that terrorist activities, having ideological basis, usually have a certain kind of moral code that they follow even in the operations of raising financial assets. On the other hand, in their interactions with organized crime — interactions that have already been highlighted by the previous literature that the research has indicated — organized crime leaders do not necessarily have ideological spectrum’s to consider. Therefore, the study points out that although these two are equally important issues that must be addressed by local and international policing agencies and government, organized crime has shown significant foothold and power over terrorist financial activities because of their lack of ideological beliefs and the sole purpose of being able to raise financial assets and money for local consumption. In fact, studies have pointed out, financial assets that have been raised by terrorist activities are usually flushed right back into such terrorist actions while organized crime assets remain within certain groups and families and usually even enter back into the economy through consumer purchase and financial institutions[6].

However, such similarities and intersections are being taken advantage of by the United States government in order to be able to control these two problematic elements of society. In a study published by 2004 that discusses terrorism and organized crime and their financial intersections, researchers have identified that in order for government officials to take advantage of the situation, the traditional “follow the money” mantra must be followed by investigators [7]. Because of the fact that terrorism and organized crime activities usually intersect in financial operations because of their financial abilities, local policing agencies and international government units may be able to track criminal operations from both sides of the fence if they follow terrorists and criminal organizations with respect to their purchases and business relations and partners. The intersection of financial activities of terrorist organizations and criminal organizations have been so lucrative that it has become irresistible for either group to register trade with one another which also serves as the downfall in actual operational procedures, as had been proven by cases during the tracking of local Chicago Mafia field the financing and distribution of local arms that are important in the United States that were eventually found to be used in terrorist activities both in the country and abroad [8].

Further literature on the topic suggests that there are other interplays and relationships between traditional organized crime and terrorism, and that some organized crime actions are now being considered as terrorist threats in terrorist activities because their definition area borders are crossing boundaries into traditional terrorist classification [9]. However, further links other than monetary distribution and financial operations are still vague at best because of the fact that researchers have known direct data accessible either from terrorist activities or organized crime activities and deduce such principal agent operations only through court cases and actual confessions and data gathered from interviews which are at best subjective in nature.

References:

Albanese, J. S. “Organized crime in our times.” No.: ISBN 1-59345-958-0 (2004): 351.

Bovenkerk, F., and B. A. Chakra. “Terrorism and organized crime.” In UN Forum on crime and society, 1:3-16, 2004.

Makarenko, T. “The Crime-Terror Continuum: Tracing the Interplay between Transnational Organised Crime and Terrorism.” Global Crime 6, no. 1 (2004): 129-145.

Sanderson, T. M. “Transnational Terror and Organized Crime.” SAIS Review 24, no. 1 (2004).

Schmid, A. P. “The links between transnational organized crime and terrorist crimes.” No.: 2, no. 4 (1996): 43.

Shelley, L. I., and J. T. Picarelli. “Methods not motives: Implications of the convergence of international organized crime and terrorism.” Police Practice and Research 3, no. 4 (2002): 305-318.

[1] A. P. Schmid, “The links between transnational organized crime and terrorist crimes,” No.: 2, no. 4 (1996): 43 [2] Ibid. [3] T. M. Sanderson, “Transnational Terror and Organized Crime,” SAIS Review 24, no. 1 (2004) [4] Ibid. [5] L. I. Shelley and J. T. Picarelli, “Methods not motives: Implications of the convergence of international organized crime and terrorism,” Police Practice and Research 3, no. 4 (2002): 305-318 [6] Ibid. [7] F. Bovenkerk and B. A. Chakra, “Terrorism and organized crime,” in UN Forum on crime and society, vol. 1, 2004, 3-16 [8] J. S. Albanese, “Organized crime in our times,” No.: ISBN 1-59345-958-0 (2004): 351 [9] T. Makarenko, “The Crime-Terror Continuum: Tracing the Interplay between Transnational Organised Crime and Terrorism,” Global Crime 6, no. 1 (2004): 129-145

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A Systematic Literature Review of Knowledge and Awareness on Terrorism

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The reporting on terrorism issues especially related to Islam and Muslims has been widely researched by scholars, academics, practitioners, and other relevant parties. However, the importance to address the level of understanding and awareness on terrorism issues seems more imperative. This paper reviews how knowledge and awareness of this issue as studied by previous scholars, politicians, the media, academics, and security professionals. It focuses on the specific research techniques or methodologies that have emerged, the possible insights they offer, and the challenges and impacts they raise. With that, there is a need to do methodological-based articles on Systematic Literature Review (SLR). Guided by the PRISMA review method; a systematic review that identifies 20 related studies throughout Scopus, Web of Science, and other databases. Based on this study, five main points of SLR were discussed such as; aims of the study; study design, level of understanding; level of awareness; the findings.

Keywords: PRISMA review method , systematic literature review , terrorism understanding , terrorism awareness , Islam and Muslims

Introduction

Research on terrorism has a rich perspective and the definition of terrorism also can be varying and universal. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary ( 2018 ) defines terrorism as the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion. In other regards, the burgeoning research on media and terrorism continues as the number of terrorism attacks increases worldwide especially in the advent of the new millennium ( Fahmy, 2017 ). Also, very large academic literature examines the discourses and public representations of terrorism.

For example, Borum ( 2004 ) defined terrorism as “acts of violence intentionally perpetrated on civilian non-combatants with the goal of furthering some ideological, religious or political objective.” The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights office (2008) defined terrorism as acts of violence that target civilians in the pursuit of political or ideological aims and includes “criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes”. In 2012 Jackson and Hall defined terrorism as an occasional subject of national and international interest before 9/11, it is now ubiquitous, and its influence can be detected in virtually every dimension of contemporary social life. Notwithstanding of wide definition of terrorism which has been stated above, Schuurman ( 2019 ) conclude that research on terrorism has retained a strong focus on al-Qaeda, jihadist terrorism more generally, and the geographic areas most strongly associated with this type of terrorist violence based on the articles published between 2007 and 2016.

In light of the above, the importance of knowledge and awareness towards terrorism issues are imperative amongst society.

Due to this, the work of Rose and Larrimore ( 2002 ) conducted a survey of 291 nurses and medical staff, and students to examine the knowledge and awareness about chemical and biological terrorism among health care providers. Based on their study, it mentioned that the knowledge scores of the respondents were low, and only less than one-fourth of the knowledge questions were answered correctly. Patel et al. ( 2020 ) echo this idea by collecting data and integrating information from various sources with the use of ontology for semantical knowledge representation.

This work is expected to positively impact the government agencies, NGOs, media, and public at large by having a better platform of information in the case of emergency and they will be able to liaise with each other. Thus, the awareness of terrorism is improved among them. Following this, the researchers try to narrow down the topic on terrorism by examining the understanding and awareness of terrorism issues through a systematic review method. This is significant mainly to discover to what extent society understands and is aware of terrorism issues as in media reports.

This article is part of a larger project on the formation of an instrument on the level of knowledge and awareness towards violence and extremist from the perspective of western media. Different methods have been used to study terrorism and media such as through content analysis, survey, and also in-depth interviews. However, a systematic review method can help the readers as well as academics to study the pattern and identify the research gap for future research on media and terrorism.

According to Higgins et al. ( 2011 ), SLR or also known as systematic review (SR) is a systematic literature review which involves three main procedures which are organized, transparent and replicable in all process, especially when to locate and synthesize all the articles. To give an example Mohamed Shaffril et al. ( 2021 ) also stated that SLR has emphasized numerous unique procedures compared to the traditional review method.

On top of that, many previous scholars such as Robinson and Lowe ( 2015 ), Greyson et al. ( 2019 ) Lockwood et al. ( 2015 ), and Mallett et al. ( 2012 ) also explained the advantages of SLR. Based on this list of literature, SLR encourages researchers to do extensive searching methods by examining the information such as research design, analytical methods, and causal chains. Most importantly, they suggested that SLR can help to increase the transparency in which all the criteria must be included to ensure the robustness of the research.

Problem Statement

Despite an abundance of research on media and terrorism, efforts to study the level of knowledge and awareness towards this issue are still lacking. Thus, this research attempts to fill the gap in understanding the level of knowledge and awareness towards terrorism as reported by the Western media.

This research will look into the research patterns and trends in terrorism through a systematic review method. With regards to fulfilling the empirical gaps, such items and checklists from articles studied could be derived to contribute new knowledge for future research and scholarly work. Additionally, this systematic review provides a reference for future studies related to the level of knowledge and awareness on terrorism issues. Other than that, this review is also crucial as there is a lack of studies on terrorism within the level of knowledge and awareness context.

This systematic review study allows information providers to understand the knowledge and awareness on terrorism easier as reported by the Western media which are also relevant for administrators, academics, policymakers, and media practitioners.

Research Questions

What is the level of knowledge and awareness towards terrorism issue, what is the pattern of study on media and terrorism, purpose of the study, research methods.

A systematic review attempts to collate all empirical evidence that fits pre-specified eligibility criteria to answer a specific research question.

According to Liberati et al. ( 2009 ), a systematic review contains four aspects which are (a) a clearly stated set of objectives with an explicit, reproducible methodology; (b) a systematic search that attempts to identify all studies that would meet the eligibility criteria; (c) an assessment of the validity of the findings of the included studies, for example through the assessment of the risk of bias; and (d) systematic presentation, and synthesis, of the characteristics and findings of the included studies. Meta-analysis a statistical method that integrates and summarises results from relevant publications selected in the systematic review ( Zurynski et al., 2015 ).

Furthermore, it also can provide more precise estimates of the effects of health care than those derived from the individual studies included within a review. From this, it can be said that systematic review and meta-analysis can minimize bias and providing reliable findings.

The analysis of PRISMA or Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses has been used to ensure the transparent and complete reporting of systematic reviews and meta-analyses ( Liberati et al., 2009 ). Thus, this research follows the four steps in PRISMA.

The four steps are identification, screening, eligibility, and inclusion ( Gillath & Karantzas, 2019 ). As for identification, authors focus on searching articles through a database and also other additional sources. Then, it continuous with screening to exclude and remove any duplicate articles.

Eligibility is to find out the full-text article which can be assessed and lastly, the inclusion will be focusing on a combination of qualitative and quantitative synthesis. Hence, this four-phase covered and show numbers of identified records, excluded articles, and included studies.

The flow diagram of the study

With limited time and accessibility, the researchers have identified selected articles through electronic databases using PRISMA from 2000 until 2020 (as in Figure 1). The researchers have examined these records through abstract and full-text review only which resulted in a total of 15 articles for qualitative synthesis. The details of 15 articles were evaluated and presented in Table 3 by featuring authors, year, study design, level of understanding of terrorism, level of awareness on terrorism, and the findings.

The findings of this systematic review (limited to research published within 2000 until 2020) yield the total of 15 journal articles in English and Malay related to the level of understanding and awareness towards terrorism issues. In terms of quantity, this number is relatively small especially when we consider the timeline of articles included in this study (20 years) with two languages being included (English and Malay).

However, a broader subject on research related to terrorism may yield a greater number of studies. In this study however, we have focused on studies with such focus by arguing that to combat terrorism, we must first gain empirical data related to the level of “understanding” and “awareness” ( Jerome & Elwick, 2019 ) then only further measures or steps may be implemented to reduce the effects of terrorism at various levels.

At the same time, from this study, we admit that it is hard to find specific articles which study precisely on the level of understanding and awareness towards terrorism issues. This is a worrying sign, because we believe that, to combat terrorism, we have to identify the root of the issue and these aspects include the level of understanding and the level of awareness among the people.

Another finding from this study shows that there are three main research scopes that have been studied in these researches namely focusing on 1) the level of understanding towards terrorism issues, 2) the level of awareness towards terrorism issues and 3) the level of understanding and awareness towards terrorism issues. Out of these three scopes, 10 researches focus on the level of understanding, 9 on the level of awareness and 5 on both aspects of research.

The less dominant themes found in six different research articles are “terrorism message”, “communication about terrorism by emergency managers”, “the spread of terrorism ideology”, “public’s response against terrorist groups”, “security culture”, and “terrorism studies”. Out of these six themes, the gist of the research is on terrorism issue in which each research looked at finding the way respondents perceive terrorism and one research highlighted on the possibility of having the studies of terrorism as a formal discipline at tertiary level.

From this finding, it suggests that research that examine both aspects about terrorism (the level of understanding and awareness towards terrorism issues) may be increased in the future. A stable number of studies have been conducted on comprehending the level of understanding and the level of awareness on this issue, but the combination of both needs more effort by scholars in the future. This is inline with the suggestion made by Jerome and Elwick (2019) who argued that the level of awareness related to terrorism issues among the people can only be increased when there is an increase of level of knowledge pertaining to this issue. The lack of knowledge is then associated with the issue of a deep distrust to the media that serve as the main source of information related to terrorism ( Jackson & Hall, 2012 ; Keenan, 2018 ).

Kovacic and Logar (2016) through their study entitled Online News Coverage of Terrorism: Between Informing the Public and Spreading Fear. An analysis of 57 news reports about the case of the abduction and execution of Tomislav Salopek in 2015 has driven their study to highlight the dilemma between the public’s right to know or the security of the public. They argued that media has been used among terrorists to disseminate the ideology and activities just because to increase sales and ratings. But on the other hand, it is contradicting with The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (2021) which states that journalists do their reporting on terrorism due to the two rights which are the right to information (Article 19) and the right to security (Article 3). Based on their study, it is concludable that journalists should be aware that being immensely knowledgeable is very important and providing ethical reporting is also crucial to avoid any possible adverse consequences of the reporting such as giving the terrorist the opportunity to disseminate ideas and cause public fears. This is confirmed by Williamson et al. (2020) that media should carry the responsibility to provide accurate reporting about terrorism without instigating fear or panic. Similarly, Haner et al. (2019) conducted a national survey of 1000 Americans to understand the concern about terrorism, the emotional impact of the public’s concern, and their levels of fear of a terrorist attack which one of the findings stated that a large proportion of Americans experience fear as an emotional response to the threat of a terrorist attack. This leads us to an important party when identifying crucial entities to be included in studying terrorism which will be one of the major respondents focused in the field work of this study when it is conducted.

Specifically on studies related to the level of understanding towards terrorism issues, some examples of research include Rose and Larrimore ( 2002 ) who examined the knowledge and awareness of chemical and biological terrorism among health care providers. Another study, which is conducted among university students in Malaysia by Yaakob et al. (2016) focused the aim of the research to ascertain the level of understanding about ISIS among students of higher learning institutions in Peninsular Malaysia and to ascertain the potential for their acceptance and rejection of ISIS’ struggle. The results of these studies generally demonstrate that the level of understanding towards terrorism issues are low among students ( Mohd Hefzan Azmi et al., 2018 ; Yaacob et al., 2016 ). The level is also low among specific type of workers ( Rose & Larrimore, 2002 ) with low understanding level on a specific terrorism issue such as Daesh ( Che Mohd Aziz et al., 2019 ). The low level of understanding is associated with the lack of institutional support that hesitate to fund longitudinal study on the level of understanding among people across geographical and organizational borders, and cultural differences ( Youngman, 2020 ).

Relating to this, based on the SLR analysis conducted, the level of awareness towards terrorism issues can also be concluded as low as studies found that when the level of understanding is low, this will definitely affect the level of awareness which is impossible to score a high level ( Mohd Hefzan Azmi et al., 2018 ). In terms of subject, the main aspect of “awareness” which can be included in public awareness campaigns ( Orehek & Vazeou-Nieuwenhuis, 2014 ) and speeches and advocacies by politicians ( Keenan, 2018 ) includes awareness on threat. Alqahtani (2014) found that awareness of threat is one of the crucial elements that must be included to increase awareness of how dangerous terrorism can be.

Studies that focused on both aspects i.e. the level of understanding and the level of awareness demonstrate that students generally have low understanding and awareness on issues related to terrorism ( Mohd Hefzan Azmi et al., 2018 ). The same study also found that, among these students, they could not even understand the questions posted in the questionnaire. To increase the level of understanding, media play an important role ( Jerome & Elwick, 2019 ) with the assumption that, the increase of awareness among the people can only be achieved by increasing the level of knowledge ( Mohd Hefzan Azmi et al., 2018 ).

In terms of research method deployed in these studies, the analysis show that 4 studies deployed qualitative study (3 – focus group discussion; 1 – in-depth interview), 3 quantitative study with survey as the method and 2 studies deployed mixed method. 6 out of 15 studies examined do not state the method applied. From here, it can be concluded that two most popular research methods deployed in studies related to the level of understanding and awareness on issues related to terrorism are survey and focus group discussion. This seems obvious due to the strengths of these method. Survey provide a wide range of data pertaining to views of the respondents while focus group discussion allows in-depth and rich discoveries to be explored in a study ( Creswell, 2013 ; Mason, 2002 ).

From the SLR analysis conducted, there are several aspects that have been discussed including the topics being studied in previous research pertaining to the level of understanding and awareness on issues related to terrorism, the number of research and the research method deployed in these researches.

In terms of the themes identified, since this study focused to investigations related to the level of understanding and the level of awareness related to terrorism issues, three major themes were discovered mainly 1) the level of understanding about terrorism issues, 2) the level of awareness about terrorism issues and 3) the level of understanding and the level of awareness about terrorism issues have been identified besides six other lesser dominant themes. Among these three major themes, the least number of research were done on the third theme. This should be something that scholars could pay attention too, as the association between the level of understanding and the level of awareness is highly connected. It is indeed difficult to increase the level of awareness when there is no or low level of understanding. Research studying on the combination of both aspects celebrates such association, that definitely could contribute more in-depth and more meaningful data to develop practical and workable instruments and measures to combat terrorism.

In terms of the research methods deployed, the study found that the most popular ones are focus group discussion and survey. For future studies, these methods may be used as both methods yield rich data in their own ways. However, more in-depth interviews may be conducted to provide “single and in-depth data”, to add to what survey and focus group discussion have to offer. Studies should not stop deploying survey and focus group discussion methods, in-depth interview should be added especially when research on the level of understanding and awareness on terrorism issues becomes more mature, hence it will offer more in-depth and specific data that will assist to administrative and empirical decision makings in the future. Qualitative studies will also offer not only in-depth data but also cultural-sensitive discoveries hence facilitate international collaboration to counter terrorism ( Urangoo & Lee, 2019 ).

These future directions should at least spark motivation among researchers to conduct more studies related to terrorism in general and about the level of understanding and awareness more specifically. This thus then will increase the number of research in this specific issue, hence improving the limited number of studies as found in this study. Only a total of 15 studies found and analyzed in this SLR analysis, although the timeline of the study is 20 years. More studies on the combination of the level of understanding and the level of awareness must also be increased to ensure more impactful results may be obtained and shared. It is then studies on terrorism will give impact to policy making and having positive impacts to the people around the world.

Acknowledgments

This work is part of the Fundamental Research Grant Scheme for Research Acculturation of Early Career Researchers (FRGS – RACER) – funded project titled “The Formation of Instrument and Measurement towards Level of Understanding on Terrorism and Extremism from the Perspective of International Media” with grant number USIM/FRGS-RACER/FKP/50619.

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Hassan, F., Othman, S. S., Hayati Yusoff, S., Ali, K., Omar, S. Z., & Musaddad, M. A. (2022). A Systematic Literature Review of Knowledge and Awareness on Terrorism. In J. A. Wahab, H. Mustafa, & N. Ismail (Eds.), Rethinking Communication and Media Studies in the Disruptive Era, vol 123. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 203-218). European Publisher. https://doi.org/10.15405/epsbs.2022.01.02.17

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How to access the terrorism prevention literature library.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) developed a comprehensive and publicly available literature review and ontology dashboard to organize Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention (TVTP) literature. This new capability streamlines the ability for end users and practitioners to access peer-reviewed and methodologically sound research products to develop an evidence base in the field of terrorism prevention for what works, what doesn’t, and why.

To develop this capability, S&T reviewed TVTP articles published in peer-reviewed journals on topics such as current TVTP research, existing TVTP research, and evaluations of TVTP programs. Queries focused on major TVTP concepts such as diversion, mitigation, resilience, program evaluations, transferrable programs, and international programs.

Articles in the ontology dashboard are searchable by Title, Author, Abstract, Author Keywords, and Themes (also known as nodes). Articles are hierarchically organized in the dashboard, which can show relatedness through parent and child nodes. For instance, an article about a diversion program in the UK would be coded under diversion programs and international programs. Content was coded through two qualitative approaches: content analysis and ground theory coding. The coding process was iterative, allowing for changes and additions as new themes and understandings emerged.

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Mendeley – a free and publicly accessible desktop application and website that allows users to manage, share, and discover content and authors for research – was selected to host the literature library. Mendeley offers both a downloadable desktop application and web-based mode.

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An Explorative Study into the Importance of Defining and Classifying Cyber Terrorism in the United Kingdom

  • Victoria Jangada Correia   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-0305-3381 1  

SN Computer Science volume  3 , Article number:  84 ( 2022 ) Cite this article

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Terrorism, crime, and war are all familiar notions; however, the way in which these have been altered through cyberspace is not yet fully, nor unanimously, understood through definitions, theories, and approaches. Although the threat level of terrorism in the UK has lowered to moderate, the threat posed by cyber terrorism has nonetheless heightened throughout the COVID pandemic due to the greater necessity and presence of technology in our lives. This research aimed to highlight the necessity for a unanimous cyber terrorism definition and framework and further aimed to determine what perceptions are held by the general public regarding cyber terrorism through a mixed methods approach. The literature review confirms that there is an absence of a unanimously agreed upon definition of cyber terrorism, and furthermore that the existing academic definitions are not compatible with UK legislation. In addition, the literature review highlights an absence of a cyber terrorism framework that classifies what kind of terrorist activity is cyber enabled or cyber dependent. Quantitative data from the online survey find a couple of significant effects implying the necessity for greater diversity amongst stakeholders which could potentially enhance the detection and prevention of terrorism in the UK. The qualitative data find that although there is some agreement amongst the sample population in views held towards cyber terrorism, some misconceptions are nonetheless present which could have implications on the general public’s ability to identify and report cyber terrorist activity. Overall, the findings from the literature review and the primary data collection aid in developing a cyber terrorism definition that is compatible with UK legislative definitions, and further aids in developing a terrorist activity framework that succinctly highlights the inextricable links between traditional, cyber enabled, and cyber-dependent terrorism.

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Introduction, overview of research.

For almost up to 2 decades, the search for defining cyber terrorism has been described as the ‘Holy Grail’ for scholars and policy makers [ 1 ]. This has been escalated during the recent COVID pandemic where life has made a remarkable shift towards online activity, placing individuals at a much higher risk of being vulnerable to cyber terrorist activities [ 2 ]. Although there has been considerable research focusing on how cyber capabilities facilitate terrorism [ 3 , 4 , 5 ], there is nonetheless significant disagreement surrounding what definitions and approaches should be used unanimously to facilitate in preventing, detecting, investigating, and prosecuting cyber terrorist threats by key stakeholders in the United Kingdom (UK) such as the police, prosecution services and policy makers and international stakeholders too.

This disagreement could be due to the notion that cyber terrorism as a term, houses a wide range of illicit behaviours including hacking and phishing, to sharing online propaganda, radicalising and recruiting individuals. Therefore, attempting to define everything under the term ‘cyber terrorism’ can become challenging due to legal contexts, objectives of the illicit behaviour, and intent [ 6 ]. The lack of a unanimous definition has further delayed a framework for cyber terrorism being developed. McGuire and Dowling [ 7 ] coined the cyber-dependant and cyber-enabled cybercrime classification; however, cyber terrorism was outside the scope at the time, and this has not been further reviewed to date.

As at financial year end on March 2020, 261 arrests of terrorism-related activity were recorded [ 8 ]. However, as at financial year end on March 2021, there was a 37% reduction in terrorism-related arrests [ 9 ]. Not only are these statistics potentially reflective of the three national lockdowns and restrictions put in place for the COVID pandemic but are also potentially indicative of terrorist activity transitioning further into online platforms and not being regulated effectively. It was found that in the middle of the pandemic, terrorist groups had been altering their methods of sharing their beliefs through a plethora of online platforms, from disseminating propaganda to spreading misinformation and conspiracies to attain further support [ 2 ]. These findings highlight a socio-technical perspective in which the inextricable links between terrorist technological use and its impacts on society are evident. This perspective highlights the need for a more collaborative approach from stakeholders to create greater security for society from terrorism.

Interestingly, the aforementioned issues are also prevalent and long-standing in the taxonomy of cybercrime and the crimes which are included under this term [ 10 , 11 , 12 ]. This alludes to widespread conflict in the foundational understanding of cybercrime as a whole which inevitably affects the approach to counter cyber terrorism. Therefore, the rationale for this research highlights the importance of law enforcement, policy makers and prosecuting services having a clear definition and framework for cyber terrorism and its links to traditional terrorism, allowing them to combat the threat collaboratively. However, it is perhaps important to note that recent research found that the use of nonspecific interventions to deter terrorist activity could in fact lead to an increase in terrorist attacks [ 13 ]. In light of this, more specific interventions and a clearer understanding of underlying criminal behaviours are necessary to effectively combat the threat of terrorism, further highlighting the need for a more unanimous and concise definition and approach from relevant stakeholders in countering cyber terrorism.

Research Aims and Objectives

This research primarily aims to establish a concise definition of cyber terrorism and a suitable framework that clearly elaborates on terrorist and cyber terrorist activity to be considered by UK stakeholders. In order to achieve this primary aim, this research’s research will investigate and critically analyse the etymology of the words so to better understand the term ‘cyber terrorism’. Furthermore, current definitions of terrorism and cyber terrorism will be reviewed and analysed to determine the strengths and weakness of viewing cyber terrorism in certain ways. Additionally, Space Transition Theory [ 14 ] and Routine Activity Theory [ 15 ] will be analysed to inform a discussion on cyber terrorist behaviours and processes. Lastly, the Smith et al. terrorist group activity process [ 16 ] will be analysed alongside the McGuire and Dowling [ 7 ] dual binary classification, to support the development of a proposed framework.

This research then aims to determine what the public’s perceptions are towards cyber terrorism as this could be representative of bigger issues regarding misconceptions on the topic. To conduct a reasonable investigation, this research will collect quantitative and qualitative primary data by means of an online survey. The data will first be statistically analysed to determine any significance between participant demographics and opinions. The data will then be thematically analysed to determine any strong themes which relate to participant opinions and identify common views held by the sample population in context of the findings from the literature review.

Article Layout

The structure which this research will follow includes a literature review where relevant literature, definitions, and frameworks will be evaluated to present a clear outline on what the current state of defining cyber terrorism is. This will be followed by a methodology chapter which will discuss and analyse the mixed methods approach adopted for this research’s primary data collection. Subsequently, the quantitative and qualitative results will be interpreted in the context of the findings from the literature review, with analysis of the implications and limitations of the data. Within the results and findings chapter, a new cyber terrorism definition and framework will be proposed and analysed. Finally, the research will offer conclusions and recommendations highlighting how the study could be improved and further researched.

Literature Review

Modern day understanding of terrorism.

Defining terrorism is a subject matter undergoing much discourse [ 17 , 18 , 19 ]. This struggle in defining terrorism could be attributed to the difficulty in reflecting ideological, philosophical, political and religious normative differences under a single term. As a result of this, further confusion can become apparent in justifying the legality or illegality of suspected terrorist activity. Terrorism has been depicted as a social construct as the meaning of it is shaped by the views held by the person categorising what terrorism means to them [ 20 , 21 ].

According to Hewer and Taylor, the term terrorism is merely a marker used by governments to legitimise or delegitimise politically motivated violence occurring in their country [ 22 ]. A good example of this is the paradoxical nature between the Middle East and the West in their characterisation of terrorism. In the Middle East there is an amalgamation between religious identity and politics which influences societal and cultural concepts directly [ 23 , 24 ], whereas in the west there is a strong distinction between religion and politics resulting in a democratic society which enables an array of societal and cultural ideals to cohabit [ 22 , 25 ]. The beliefs and ideologies held by the West and the Middle East see one another as a threat to their respective core norms and values which is potentially where the notion of terrorism emerges [ 26 , 27 ]. Overall, this information emphasises the belief that different countries may have different meanings of what qualifies as a terrorist act or not depending on their political and religious alignment. In light of this, it is important to acknowledge that the prosecution of a terrorist who is not based in the UK may be troublesome due to these differing aspects, especially with cyber terrorism where threats or acts of violence and disruption can be communicated or committed through cyber capabilities off British soil.

The Terrorism Act 2006 [ 28 ] and The Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 [ 29 ] are amongst some of the acts which detail illicit behaviours within terrorist activity. More specifically, The Terrorism Act 2006 defines terrorism as an act, or threat of act of violence against the public and/or property, to intimidate the public and/or property, or to advance political or religious ideologies. This definition has been criticised due to its implications on principles of legality and its lack of clarity in defining what actions are ascribed as ‘terrorist’ which may mislead public and political perceptions regarding terrorism [ 18 , 21 ]. This vagueness could be attributed to confusing wording within legislation, which could further cause individuals engaging in terrorist activity to not be aware of the illegality behind their behaviour. Regardless of these downfalls, it is important to consider the UK’s legislative definition of terrorism in this literature review as it is pertinent that any future cyber terrorism definition be compatible with already existing legislation.

Media coverage has also contributed massively to the way in which terrorism is defined and understood and have blurred the lines between victims and perpetrators of terrorist acts [ 30 ]. The media’s use of terms such as ‘freedom fighting’, ‘insurgency’ and ‘extremism’ has caused the foundational meaning of terrorism to be replaced and misunderstood [ 18 ]. As a result, the original understanding of the term terrorism has been modified to suit the many political and religious terrorist organisations operating in modern society. This could potentially result in news media outlets shaping and promoting misconceptions amongst public opinion.

This can be better understood through Gatekeeping Theory which explores the way in which information is selected and disseminated to a group of people by news media outlets [ 31 , 32 , 33 ]. Shoemaker and Vos [ 32 ] further developed the theory, specifically investigating the way in which information of an event is passed through a series of ‘gatekeepers’ who determine what information will be disseminated, how and to whom. This theory challenges one to consider how the gatekeeping process may potentially wittingly or unwittingly distort the general public’s understanding of terrorism and terrorist activity according to the differing political, religious, or societal alignments held by news media outlets. In light of these findings, it is clear that a unanimous understanding of terrorism should be shared across the various stakeholders to improve the accuracy of the information being shared to the public.

Understanding the ‘Cyber’ Prefix

The term ‘cyber’ as we know it today originates back to kebernetes which was an ancient Greek phrase which translates to ‘the art of steering’ [ 34 ]. It was not until mathematician Norbert Wiener used the word cybernetics in the 1940s that the term came to be known as a study of the systems within living beings and artificial machines [ 35 ]. This term was further influenced by pop culture in the 1980s during the cyberpunk movement which was inspired by William Gibson’s novel Neuromancer [ 36 ], which further associated the ‘cyber’ term with dystopian and futuristic concepts. At a similar time to this, there had also been a shifting approach and understanding within the US military with regard to information warfare and the changing nature of the modern battlefield [ 37 ].

Flutter argues that the cyber prefix is nothing but a catchall phrase which has resulted in a term that has been overly ill-defined due to the various range of factors which it tries to explain [ 38 ]. In his article, Flutter suggests that returning the terms ‘Information Warfare’, ‘Information Operations’ and ‘Computer Network Operations’ instead of the cyber prefix would be more beneficial as this would clearly classify crimes which are dependent to technology. Conversely to this view, it has been argued that a definition of cyberspace should not be solely categorised under the technological components as “cyberspace allows the exercise of power” [ 39 ]. Although Computer Network Operations as a term has mostly been used in warfare, there have yet been implications to push this into the broader scope of cybercrimes.

It could be useful to apply the above terms to terrorism rather than the cyber prefix as this could more clearly define terrorist activity which is fully dependent on technological capabilities such as denial of service attacks. This approach to focus on the computer and information operations has been adopted by a few academics in their definitions of cyber terrorism [ 40 , 41 ]. However, such an approach is arguably limited as it excludes other types of terrorist activities which are being enabled by other aspects of technology such as the dissemination of terrorist propaganda and recruitment. Although separate terms could be designed to distinguish between these differing approaches to terrorist activity, the cyber prefix has become a synonymous catch all phrase distinguishing between traditional crimes and more modern crimes being committed through technological capabilities. In light of this, a term such as ‘computer network operations’ or ‘information warfare’ may not be suitable to further explore and define cyber terrorism as these terms overlook other types of terrorist activity. In turn, this would reject the inextricable links between technology, terrorism, and their impacts on communities, not just computer networks. Therefore, this literature review proposes that the use of the cyber prefix is pertinent for a clear and synonymous categorisation between traditional terrorism and cyber terrorism.

Current Definitional Interpretations of Cyber Terrorism

Cyber terrorism definitions are mostly based upon traditional terrorism definitions such as the aforementioned. It has been suggested that attacks can qualify as cyber terrorism if there is intent to impede on the political, social, or economic functioning of a group, organisation or country, or to provoke/perpetrate acts of physical violence [ 42 ]. Holt further supports this definition by suggesting that the term cyber terrorism should encapsulate the behaviour leading to the act, without necessarily resulting in physical disruption or damage [ 43 ]. Both these definitions put emphasis on the intent and motivations behind cyber terrorist activity instead of narrowly focusing on the physical impacts.

Conversely, other academics have taken a different stance on the matter and have argued that to qualify an attack under cyber terrorism, physical damage and/or disruption against a computer or network must occur [ 40 , 41 ]. Despite efforts made by academics to define cyber terrorism, some have further argued that the cyber prefix to terrorism only elaborates on the method employed in committing terrorism and therefore ‘cyber terrorism’ does not require its own category [ 44 ]. As technology continues to evolve and becomes more accessible, viewing cyber terrorism as proposed by Gordon and Ford [ 44 ] and Denning [ 41 ], could pose a greater risk to public safety, as well as impact law enforcement’s understanding and approaches in preventing, detecting, and investigating cyber terrorist activity.

These cyber terrorism definitions offer differing insights into what may and may not qualify as cyber terrorism, but it is important to acknowledge the dates when these definitions were conceived. As technology has significantly evolved since the conception of these definitions, it has become necessary to agree upon an up-to-date cyber terrorism definition that incorporates all aspects of modern technology. A more recent study was conducted identifying the key characteristics present in an array of cyber terrorism definitions to establish a new definition based off of these components and the study concluded that [ 45 ]:

“Cyber terrorism is the premeditated attack or threat thereof by non-state actors with the intent to use cyberspace to cause real world consequences in order to influence fear or coerce civilian, government, or non-government targets in pursuit of social or ideological objectives. Real-world consequences include physical, psychological, political, economic, ecological, or otherwise that occur outside of cyber space.”

This definition emphasises the actor, motivation, intent, means, effects and targets of cyber terrorism. Comparing this definition to those by Foltz [ 42 ] and Holt [ 43 ], there are some similarities; however, this definition puts further emphasis on the effect of the cyber terrorist activity which is pertinent to better understand what kind of acts actually encapsulate cyber terrorism. In comparison to the definitions proposed by Denning [ 41 ] and Conway [ 40 ], the Plotnek and Slay [ 45 ] definition does not only focus on cyber terrorist activity which may have physical impacts, but also focuses on other effects such as psychological and economic. This is an important aspect in defining the cyber terrorism term as it acknowledges all impacts which technological platforms are having on terrorism and subsequently on communities, rather than just a singular aspect. Although important points are covered in this explanation of cyber terrorism, it is nonetheless a long-winded definition with many different clauses which may not be simply understood. Furthermore, Plotnek and Slay are Australian based researchers and therefore the applicability of their definition to UK legislation is perhaps dubious due to its lack of compatibility with the current definition of terrorism outlined in The Terrorism Act 2006 [ 28 ]. A more suitable approach to defining cyber terrorism more succinctly, could be to divide it into clearer themes and shorter sentences.

Realistically, cyber terrorism is a very broad topic, and a definition which may endeavour to cover all the characteristics which fall under this term is seemingly challenging. Therefore, the attempt to encapsulate every aspect of cyber terrorism under one singular definition may be counter-productive and may potentially be the very notion preventing a unanimously agreed upon definition. Furthermore, there seems to be a lack of compatibility of the above definitions with the UK legislative definition of terrorism, therefore, a cyber terrorism definition could be designed in the context of UK law.

Theoretical Underpinnings of Cyber Terrorism

Terrorists use cyber space for an array of activities including hate speech, propaganda, recruitment and communication [ 46 ]. This literature review found that Routine Activity Theory [ 15 ] and Space Transition Theory [ 14 ] can be applied to cyber terrorism to support a clearer understanding behind the motivations of cyber terrorist offenders, in turn aiding stakeholders in the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of cyber terrorism.

Routine Activity Theory

Routine Activity Theory was developed by Cohen and Felson in 1979 and proposed that in order for there to be an occurrence of victimisation, three confluent factors were necessary: first, a motivated offender; secondly, a suitable target; and thirdly, the absence of a capable guardian. When this theory is applied to cybercrime, the notion of physical space is modified into cyberspace [ 47 , 48 , 49 ]. A study was conducted into the relationship between university students and their computers, and it was found that students who had a greater tendency to disregard their computer-oriented lifestyles and/or neglected security software on their computers, were more likely to be victims of computer crimes [ 47 ]. This study highlights a moderation to the original routine activity theory by which the absence of a guardian may not only be a physical person but could also be the lack of security software on a victim’s technological device.

Although this study was specifically about hacking, the cyber routine activity theory has nonetheless been applied to other forms of cybercrimes [ 50 ] and these findings can be applied to cyber terrorism to better illuminate the three confluent factors in relation to online terrorist activity. For example, if there is no computer security or blocked websites, this could enable the motivated offender to carry out a threat or act of terrorist violence against a suitable target.

Space Transition Theory

Space Transition Theory, created by Jaishankar [ 14 ], was developed to better explain the transitioning of cyber-criminal behaviour between physical space, to cyber space and vice versa. This theory explores seven main tenets: (1) propensity to commit cybercrime as a result of repressed offline criminal tendencies; (2) flexible identity within cyber environments; (3) freedom to transition between physical and cyber spaces; (4) criminal opportunity with little regulation and chance of being caught; (5) offenders’ social connections; (6) reduced threat to offenders; and (7) the blurred lines between norms and values within cyber environments. The principles within Jaishankar’s [ 14 ] theory provide greater comprehension in the paradoxical characteristics between traditional and cybercrimes, and three of these can specifically contribute to better understanding cyber terrorism.

Firstly, due to the anonymous nature of cyberspace, there is a straightforward opportunity for cyber terrorists to disguise their identity, previously referred to as dissociative anonymity [ 50 , 51 ]. This anonymity enables terrorists to hide their identity as a way to bypass existing regulations within cyber environments. Second, due to the anonymous nature of cyber environments, this not only impacts how actions can be regulated, but also allows offenders to continue their criminal behaviour with little to no consequences. This is further supported by cognitive inhibition effect in which, due to lack of deterrence, dissociation between the action and the end result encourages the continual terrorist behaviour [ 50 ]. Third, the ability to interchange between physical space and cyber space, alludes to the notion that terrorist activity may potentially manifest in cyber space where there are limited constraints to disseminate propaganda and recruit, prior to moving into physical space where offline impacts may be seen [ 52 ]. This available interchangeability is financially advantageous to terrorist groups as they can achieve their aims and objectives to further their terrorist ideology with reduced monetary costs.

Lastly, if terrorist behaviour is repressed in physical environments, this may encourage terrorists to modify their approaches into cyberspace where activities can be hidden from regulatory bodies and stakeholders involved in combatting terrorism [ 53 ]. Although this was an already advantageous aspect for terrorists, this has become even more significant due to the global COVID pandemic and lockdown restrictions [ 2 ]. Due to a greater increase in terrorist use of cyber space and its dynamic spatial -temporal characteristic, there is a lower risk of being caught due to the vastness of cyber environments [ 52 ]. Overall, the tenets highlighted in Space Transition Theory [ 14 ] simplify the advantageous elements which are enabling terrorist activity to continue mostly uninterrupted.

Categorisation of Cyber Terrorist Activity

According to the Crown Prosecution Service [ 54 ], in order for an action to qualify as terrorism, there needs to be evidence of terrorist motivations. Wilkinson identifies four types of terrorist groups: ethno-nationalist groups; ideological groups; religio-political groups; and single-issue groups [ 55 ]. This identification can be used to inform the types of motivations which can influence terrorist offences. The current legislations for countering the threat of terrorism in the UK are The Terrorism Act 2000 [ 56 ]; The Terrorism Act 2006 [ 28 ]; The Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 [ 29 ]; and The Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019 [ 57 ].

According to the Crown Prosecution Service [ 54 ], some examples of substantive terrorist offences include preparing terrorist attacks; collecting terrorist information; disseminating terrorist publications with intent of encouraging terrorism; aiding in covering up terrorist activity online; supporting a proscribed organisation; attending a place for terrorist training; and financially aiding terrorist activity. In the context of the above offences, one could question the effectiveness of current UK legislation in preventing, detecting, investigating and prosecuting cyber terrorist activity. For example, the offence of ‘attending a place for terrorist training’ under The Terrorism Act 2006 [ 28 ] may be challenging to apply to terrorist virtual training as there is no geographic “place” due to the boundaryless characteristic of a cyber environment. Both pinpointing the virtual location of training and determining the IP addresses of each individual attending the training session, could make it difficult for stakeholders to detect and prosecute [ 58 , 59 ]. However, as explored in Space Transition Theory [ 14 ], this is an advantageous notion for cyber terrorism due to the anonymity factor. In addition, it is important to note that terrorist activities, such as training and recruitment, have become more reliant on online platforms, especially throughout the COVID pandemic due to restrictions.

Recently, The Department for Digital, Cultural, Media and Sport [ 60 ], released a Draft Online Safety Bill which aims to set out principles for service providers in regulating their services and making them safe for users. It directly highlights principles which should be used to combat online terrorist activity. The draft bill has been under scrutiny for the risk it poses to freedom of speech, privacy and the way in which it will regulate risks to the public [ 61 , 62 ], however, it is nonetheless a step in the right direction to continue combatting the threat posed by terrorism in the UK. Although UK laws can be a beneficial tool in understanding what offences can be prosecuted, it is limited in clearly categorising terrorist offences and their processes in a framework approach.

Smith et al. [ 16 ] conducted a study into the spatial and temporal patterns of terrorist group activity, and although classifying terrorist activity was not a main aim, this was nonetheless achieved and can be used to better understand terrorist processes. This study breaks down terrorist activity into four main categories: (1) recruitment; (2) preliminary organisation and planning; (3) preparatory conduct; and (4) terrorist act. This framework can be useful in gaining a clearer understanding of what general types of terrorist activity occur and, furthermore, how one act can lead to another. This could be a beneficial tool for stakeholders involved in the prevention, detection, investigation, and prosecution of traditional and cyber terrorism as there would be a clearer understanding of the entailed processes.

McGuire and Dowling developed a dual-binary framework approach which classifies cybercrimes based off their dependence to cyber capabilities [ 7 ]. Cyber-enabled crimes, such as disseminating terrorist propaganda or theft, are traditional crimes which can increase in scale due to technology. On the other hand, cyber-dependent crimes, such as denial of service attacks or hacking, are acts which can only be committed through technological means. This dual binary approach is beneficial as it encourages a clear classification which can be easily understood by direct stakeholders such as law enforcement and prosecution services. However, this approach is limited as it does not apply this model to cyber terrorism [ 7 ]. Considering this approach has been adopted by the Crown Prosecution Service [ 63 ] to better explain the prosecution of cybercrimes, this could be indicative of a lack of understanding towards cyber terrorism from the criminal justice system in the UK. This raises a critical question of whether the criminal justice system is suitably equipped with knowledge in securing the UK against the threat posed by cyber terrorism. Considering the rise of online based terrorism throughout the pandemic [ 2 ], a dual binary approach may not be sufficient, but rather a ternary approach which incorporates traditional, cyber enabled and cyber dependent terrorism, could instead be considered to enhance the understanding of varying terrorist activities and their correlations.

Methodology

Research design.

In order to determine what perceptions were held by the public towards cyber terrorism, a mixed methods approach was chosen over a single method approach as mixed methods enable the researcher to find comparisons and contradictions within the quantitative and qualitative data which overall strengthens the discussion to better understand something, which as highlighted in the literature review, is not yet well understood [ 64 , 65 ]. By utilising a mixed methods approach, quantitative and qualitative data were collected and analysed simultaneously using positivist (quantitative) and post-positivist (qualitative) paradigms to observe and measure the responses [ 66 , 67 ].

Research Materials

The research material used was a mixed methods questionnaire which consisted of both quantitative and qualitative questions in the form of an online survey which was open to the public. Some benefits of utilising surveys to collect data are that participants are able to answer questions in their own time, and furthermore can answer truthfully without a fear of being judged as they are in a familiar environment [ 68 , 69 ]. Also, online surveys have been found to be beneficial as they are simple to implement and inexpensive compared to traditional questionnaire characteristics such as printing, postage, location and time [ 70 , 71 ].

The online survey was created through Jisc Online Surveys [ 72 ] which was used to create and host the survey for participants to complete the questions using a link. It was important to the research that the survey be made simple for ease of participants to navigate through it themselves and, therefore, where needed, explanations were put in place to aid participants throughout the survey. The survey used a range of demographic questions, dichotomous questions, Likert scale questions, and open questions. Every question gave respondents the opportunity to elaborate on their responses with free text boxes which fed in to the qualitative data.

Participants were specifically asked questions regarding their beliefs towards the way in which cyberspace is enabling terrorism. Participants were asked to share what threat level they believe the UK currently faces from terrorism and were also asked their opinion on the importance of stakeholder’s understanding to improve the UK’s approach to counter cyber terrorism. The questions under this section made up an important part of this research as they directly correlated to the aims and objectives. This enabled the analysis against the demographic groups to be done to ascertain what the sample populations’ perceptions were towards cyber terrorism.

Research Sampling and Procedure

The sampling techniques which were dedicated to this research were convenience sampling and snowball sampling. The convenience sampling method does not rely on probability and takes a sample from a group of people who meet a certain criterion [ 73 , 74 ], where for this research the criteria were easy to reach; availability; and over the age of 18. A limitation of convenience sampling is that it encourages biased results due to the potential proximity of the researcher and the respondents and therefore, opinions in the data may not have the ability to be fairly applied to the general population [ 74 , 75 ]. In light of this limitation, the snowball sampling method was then also utilised by encouraging respondents to share the survey once they had completed it to at least one other person is this would increase the sample size and generalisability of the data [ 76 ]. This would ensure that the sample was more diverse.

The online survey was distributed through a web link which was shared via the researcher’s social media accounts with a short explanation of the research so that participants could make an informed decision of whether they wished to participate or not. The social media sites used included LinkedIn; Facebook; Twitter; and Instagram. The survey was open to the public for 76 days between March and May of 2021, and every Thursday of the week, the survey was reshared on the social media sites to generate a larger sample population. Overall, this achieved a sample size of 83 respondents. As respondents answered questions on topics which they may not have put much thought into prior to completing the survey, this may have hindered their ability to make decent thought-out conclusions in their answers [ 77 , 78 ], potentially making a catalyst of unreliable data.

Data Analysis Techniques

The quantitative data collected from the online survey were analysed using IBM SPSS. This software was chosen for the quantitative analysis as it has been used for research in social sciences due to the straightforward approach it offers for a range of analyses and the researcher does not need any mathematical expertise to use this software [ 79 , 80 ]. Additionally, SPSS allowed for comparative investigation between the data sets to be undertaken to analyse whether there were any strong attitudinal relationships [ 81 ]. More specifically, t tests and ANOVA (Analysis of Variance) tests were carried out using SPSS to determine whether there were any strong relationships between demographics and the topical questions.

The qualitative data collected from the online survey were thematically analysed utilising Microsoft Word. This software was chosen for the qualitative analysis as it enabled the researcher to see all the qualitative data together and go through the process of thematic analysis using the highlight feature to colour codes and themes, and further use the control find feature to search for particular words or phrases [ 82 ]. In order to ensure that important data were not missed, the researcher initially became comfortable with the data taking simple notes on opinions which become apparent prior to beginning the coding and thematic categorising stage [ 82 ]. Analysis and interpretation of the qualitative results were conducted in tandem to ensure that any final conclusions were reached following in-depth analysis [ 83 , 84 ].

Ethical Considerations

The British Society of Criminology’s Ethics Statement ensures that within any primary research, safety should be practiced, and ethics should be considered [ 85 ]. Prior to the survey being shared, a number of ethical considerations had to be considered to ensure that the researcher and participants were not placed at risk, and if so that the mitigation strategies were made available. The main ethical considerations which related directly to this research’s research were consent, confidentiality, anonymity, autonomy and debriefing. Steps were taken to ensure that respondents were aware of their rights as a participant when they agreed to take part in the research.

Online Surveys is fully compliant with the Data Protection Act 2018 [ 86 ] and does not record IP addresses to ensure that complete anonymity is maintained. Furthermore, to ensure the data were kept safe and private, only the researcher had access to the raw data which were stored on a password protected account with Online Surveys on a password protected laptop belonging to the researcher. In accordance with the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice Ethics Committee guidelines, the data were stored in the researchers N drive, and after 10 years it will be destroyed. Before the survey could be disseminated, an ethical review was completed by the SCCJ Ethics Committee of the proposed research, and the ethics were approved.

In order to ensure that participants had informed consent and participation was voluntary, an information sheet was included on the first page of the survey. Participants were informed of their rights throughout the survey process and the data collection process and participants were only able to progress to the questions for the survey once they had confirmed they were over the age of 18 and that they consented to everything in the information sheet. A section on debriefing was placed at the end of the survey upon completion which thanked respondents for their participation in the research. Additionally, as the topic of the research was of sensitive nature and could have affected individuals, three helplines and support websites were provided for participants. Finally, the details of the researcher and supervisor were provided in case any respondents had complaints and/or queries regarding the survey.

Results and Discussion

Overall findings from the literature review highlighted that there is a lack of a widely accepted definition and framework for cyber terrorism in the UK. Findings further discovered that theory can be used to better understand cyber terrorist behaviour, thus aiding in a better understanding of what cyber terrorism is. The literature review, paired with this research’s primary data collection, aimed to establish a current definition of cyber terrorism and framework approach which can be utilised by direct stakeholders involved in the prevention, detection, investigation, and prosecution of cyber terrorism within the UK. The research hypotheses were as follows:

This research hypothesised that misconceptions may be held amongst the general public, especially in the qualitative data, and that this could be a representation of misconceptions held amongst direct stakeholders as they are disseminating this information to the general public

This research also hypothesised that, based on the demographic characteristics of the sample population, significant effects would be found between the gender demographic and the topical questions where females may have been more concerned with the psychological effects of terrorism and males more so with the physical effects. This hypothesis is influenced by research that has found females to hold greater empathic concerns towards individuals’ situations than males [ 87 , 88 ].

In addition, it was hypothesised that significant effects would be found in respondents’ occupations, assuming that occupations from within technology and/or law enforcement categories may hold a more experiential understanding of cyber terrorism within the survey.

Quantitative findings are presented through the use of tables, and qualitative findings are explored through themes supported by quotations from the sample population. Subsequently, the results are discussed, exploring interpretations and implications of the findings in light of the learnt literature. This chapter ultimately develops a definition and framework for cyber terrorism informed by available literature presented in the literature review, and the outcomes of the primary data collection.

Demographics of Sample Population

The primary data were collected from 83 respondents overall. Of the sample population, 45% were male respondents and 55% were female respondents. In context of the age demographic, the highest rate of respondents being amongst the ‘18–24’ group and the lowest number of respondents being from the ‘65 or above’ group. As the survey was distributed amongst the researcher’s social media accounts, this turnout was expected due to the researcher’s connections. The main limitation is the lack of results retrieved from the 65 and above age group, although had this age group been more targeted in the distribution of the survey this would have rejected anonymity and confidentiality of the participants.

The survey offered a total of 25 occupation categories which participants could choose from. Four of these occupations were not selected by any individuals and in addition, some occupations had two or less respondents which implicated the data analysis. Therefore, once all data had been collected, the 21 occupation categories were funnelled down in to nine categories and the data for occupations were recoded in SPSS. The new categories can be seen below in Table 1 . The total sample population for occupation is 81 in contrast to the overall population of 83 as two participants did not disclose their occupation.

Quantitative Results

The quantitative results in this primary data collection aimed to investigate whether demographic characteristics from the sample population had any significant effects on the topical questions from the survey. Further to the hypotheses of this primary data collection, the quantitative results further aimed to establish whether there were any trends or patterns which could be used to better understand what perceptions are held by the public and whether there is a trend leaning towards unanimity or not. A range of t tests and ANOVA tests were used to conduct an overall of 66 basic statistical tests using SPSS to initially investigate significant findings in the data. Overall, 97% of the data were found to have no significant effects, indicating only 2 out of 66 tests had a significant effect.

Gender Findings and Interpretations

Independent t tests were conducted to investigate whether or not gender played a significant role in the way the topical questions were answered. The overall results for the t test can be found in Table 2 where data can be tracked as significant or insignificant in the p value column. As can be seen, the results which found gender to have a significant effect were Q9d and Q13. Although significant results are important to note and interpret, it should be acknowledged that these significant findings merely highlight notions which appear worthy of further investigation and replication [ 89 , 90 ].

The recruitment and mobilisation question asked participants to rank what they felt were ways in which terrorism was being enabled by cyber capabilities from a list of options. Participants were able to choose 3 options with 1 being the most important and 3 being not as important. As there were more than 3 options for participants to choose from in this question, it cannot be assumed what 3 meant to people – it could have meant ‘least important’ to some or ‘not as important’ to others.

Results showed that male participants ( M  = 1.57, SD = 0.746) ranked recruitment and mobilisation higher than females ( M  = 2.04, SD = 0.676) and an independent t-test found this pattern to be significant, t (44) = − 2.23, p  < 0.05. First, these data suggest that males are more likely to include recruitment and mobilisation as an enabled form of cyber terrorism than females. Second, these data also allude to the notion that males are potentially more concerned with the concept of recruiting and mobilising new terrorists. As no effect size was calculated due to an outdated version of SPSS, these data cannot be generalised to a larger population.

Some assumptions can be made based on the implications of these findings regarding gender perception on recruitment and mobilisation within terrorist activity. Due to terrorist groups use of online capabilities, the ability to recruit and mobilise individuals has increased through a greater ease in disseminating information to followers [ 14 , 91 ]. This has especially increased during the pandemic where more individuals have felt anxious, disempowered and alone and have found a sense of community and solace in like-minded groups where inciting violence either in a virtual or physical environment, has been more so attractive than possibly before the pandemic [ 92 ].

As discussed in this research’s literature review, recruitment is one of the first steps in the process of terrorist group activity [ 16 ]. This information, coupled with the male gender effect on ‘recruitment and mobilisation’, could indicate that males are more concerned with terrorist group actions which have a long-term effect such as recruiting individuals, who may play a direct or indirect role in threatening or causing harm to individuals virtually or physically, further down the process of terrorist group activity. This interpretation could be broadened onto a wider scale looking at stakeholders within cyber terrorism where male police officers make up 69% of the police force [ 93 ]. For example, if male police officers are more concerned with the long-term effects of cyber terrorism and are more likely to acknowledge recruitment as a first step in terrorist group activity, there may be a greater interest to detect and combat the terrorist activity being enabled by cyber space before the threat of harm to a community or nation increases. Overall, this could indicate there being a greater ambition to deter terrorism from happening through observing recruitment activity online. In light of these findings, there is a potential for hypothesis 2 to be met on the condition that the study be replicated to calculate the generalisability of these findings.

The final question in the survey, asked participants how strongly they agreed that stakeholders’ understanding of the term cyber terrorism is important in detecting and preventing terrorism in the UK. Zero participants selected the answers ‘disagree’ and ‘strongly disagree’, and only eight participants selected ‘neutral’ which suggests that there is generally overall agreement amongst the sample population that stakeholder understanding is important. However, results showed that female participants ( M  = 1.40, SD = 0.580) were more likely to strongly agree with the stakeholder statement than males ( M  = 1.89, SD = 0.658), and an independent t-test confirmed a pattern of significance, t (72.508) = 3.553, p ≤ 0.05. These data suggest that females are more likely to acknowledge the influence that stakeholders’ understanding of cyber terrorism can have on the detection and prevention of terrorism. It also highlights that male participants are potentially more inclined to take a more ‘neutral’ standpoint towards the statement. These data challenge one to consider the impact which stakeholders lacking in gender diversity may have on the understanding, and subsequently the detection and prevention of cyber terrorism.

In light of this finding, it is important to consider gender diversity within agencies and stakeholders who are associated in tackling cyber terrorism, including policy makers and law enforcement. Research regarding gender diversity has found that more diverse work environments can result in broader perspectives within decision-making and greater effectiveness in work delivery [ 94 , 95 , 96 ]. In addition, one study showed an inclination from female leadership roles in focusing on preventing and resolving matters [ 97 ]. As highlighted, the police work force is 69% males [ 93 ] and potentially making this environment more gender diverse may mean a greater emphasis for broader perspectives in understanding cyber terrorism to prevent, detect, and investigate terrorism effectively. Furthermore, recent statistics indicated that 34% of the MPs in the House of Commons are female [ 98 ]. Although this statistic has been referred to as record high, this nonetheless indicates a disparity in gender diversity within parliament which could be contributing to the difficulties in developing a unanimous definition of cyber terrorism to enable greater prevention strategies against terrorism. Overall, this finding alludes to the necessity for more gender diversity within stakeholders directly involved in detecting and preventing terrorist activity in the UK.

Age and Occupation Findings and Interpretations

ANOVA tests were carried out to establish whether or not age and occupation played a significant role in determining respondent answers. The overall results for age can be found in Table 3 , and the overall results for occupation can be found in Table 4 . Where the M or SD display ‘n/a’, this is indicative of results where respondents from a specific category did not respond to a specific question. This is most probably due to the rank questions only allowing three options to be chosen by each participant to rank in questions 9 and 11. In both these tables, the F value column displays that there were no significant findings with age or occupation. The non-significant results were analysed and the implications of these highlighted.

Discussion on Non-significant Results

The reporting of non-significant results has been much debated amongst academics, with various and differing approaches being encouraged [ 99 , 100 ]. However, it has been strongly posited that non-significant results should not be assumed to represent homogeneity amongst the sample population [ 101 , 102 ]. This is due to the fact that a non-significant result merely highlights what population parameter is unlikely, rather than what it is likely to be [ 103 ].

It can be assumed that the non-significant findings from this primary research were unable to present evidence for all the hypotheses. In order to determine whether a type I or type II error has occurred, replication of the study and re-analysis of the data would need to be carried out to better understand the non-significant results [ 103 ].

In the case of a type II error, it is important to discuss potential influential factors apart from gender, age, and occupation which could have influenced the sample population’s beliefs towards the survey questions, thus resulting in non-significant results. Most pertinent to this primary research is the impact which media outlets have potentially had in shaping perceptions surrounding cyber terrorism. In a contemporary society, the news has become more easily accessible through news media websites and social media platforms, which has increased the way in which public opinion is shaped due to the news’s gatekeeping process [ 32 , 104 , 105 ].

Although news media outlets are beneficial in making the public aware of current events, the implications could potentially be detrimental for stakeholders involved in detecting and preventing cyber terrorism. If public opinion has been shaped to believe that cyber terrorism mainly involves cyber dependent acts such as denial of service attacks, then this may be what the public look out for and subsequently report to the police (recent news examples include [ 106 , 107 , 108 ]). This leaves a gap in which cyber enabled acts of terrorism, such as online terrorist propaganda, may not be as reported by the public due to misconceptions. In turn, this potentially impacts the ability for police to prevent terrorist attacks due to online terrorist activity not being as reported. If a unanimous definition of cyber terrorism could be agreed upon, policy-makers and police could share this through news media outlets to enable the public to have a greater understanding of cyber terrorism, in turn encouraging individuals to identify and report both cyber enabled and cyber-dependent terrorism.

Qualitative Results

Analysis of the qualitative data from the online survey revealed important themes which were evident amongst the majority of the sample population. The qualitative analysis aimed to establish a more in depth understanding of what the public’s perceptions are towards cyber terrorism. Analysis highlighted that the majority of participants were generally in agreement, with only a small number of participants expressing more opposing views.

Among the 83 participants and across all the topical questions there were a total of 198 qualitative responses. Qualitative responses appeared to decline as the survey progressed, with the highest response rate to a single question being 75 responses and the lowest at 3 responses. This has the potential to lessen the validity and generalisability of all the qualitative responses; however, coupled with the quantitative data and the findings from the literature review, it may contribute in the justification for developing a cyber terrorism definition and framework. Figure  1 displays codes and themes from the qualitative analysis. In the discussion of the qualitative data, responses will be displayed as ‘PX’ where ‘P’ indicates ‘Participant’ and ‘X’ an identification number.

figure 1

Thematic analysis codes and themes from qualitative data. This figure displays the themes and codes which came to light throughout the qualitative analysis of the primary data collected. These themes and codes are reflective of the views and opinions held by the sample population, which are supported further with quotations in the analysis below

Victims of Cyber Terrorism

The first theme which emerged from the qualitative analysis of this research’s primary data collection was the distinction between the two victims of cyber terrorism. On the one hand, the ‘people’ victims of cyber terrorism were highlighted with concerns about “vulnerable” and “young” people raised by P1, P2 and P3, and “uninformed users” raised by P4 and P5. These groups were highlighted as victims of being groomed and recruited in to the terrorist group activity process, but also be victims of virtual and physical verbal attacks from cyber terrorists and extremists. On the other hand, there were also concerns highlighted towards the ‘system’ victims of cyber terrorism where participants included examples such as “data and resources” (P6), “power grids” (P7), and “interfaces” (P8 & P9). One individual (P10) referred to these more physical impacts of cyber terrorism as being “more traditionally what the term [terrorism] is associated with”.

The theme of cyber terrorist victims can be one which encourages confusion as there are different types of victims which could be encapsulated under the cyber terrorism umbrella. McGuire and Dowling’s [ 7 ] cyber enabled and cyber-dependent classification can be used to categorise victims of cyber terrorism which can further aid in developing a more concise classification. ‘Human victims’ of cyber terrorism can be victims of both cyber enabled and cyber dependent actions, which has been broken down further into ‘human victims of cyber dependent terrorism’ (for example, data theft) and ‘human victims of cyber-enabled terrorism’ (for example, verbal abuse on a social media platform). Systems who are victims of cyber terrorism can only be victims to cyber-dependent actions and, therefore, have been classed just as ‘system victims’ (for example, Ransomware attacks on national infrastructure for political gain). These classifications contribute to the development of a framework in this research.

However, it became apparent from the qualitative analysis that there is a blurred line between victims and offenders of terrorist activity with P11, P12 and P13 referring to there being an “ease for terrorists to recruit people” and “alter people’s way of thinking”. These qualitative findings are supported by the findings from the literature review highlighting the complexity in sometimes distinguishing between victim and perpetrator as a result of misconceptions from stakeholders affecting news media outlets [ 30 ]. Interestingly, although the individuals being recruited and groomed are in fact victims, in some cases they too become the offenders for the very things they were once victims of. This paradoxical concept can be better understood through the story of Shamima Begum who left the UK at the age of 15 after being recruited to join ISIS. Since the age of 19, she has been trying to return to the UK as she claims she did not expect to go through everything she did, despite her engaging in known terrorist activity [ 109 , 110 ]. The supreme court recently ruled that they could not allow Begum to return to the UK as this would create a significant national security risk [ 111 ].

As highlighted in Jaishankar’s Space Transition Theory [ 14 ], the anonymous nature of cyber environments allows individuals to hide their true identities which could enable individuals to transition from victim to perpetrator with more ease, either intentionally or inadvertently, further accentuated by cognitive inhibition effect and dissociative anonymity [ 50 , 51 ]. Understanding victims of cyber enabled and cyber dependent terrorist activity could also provide a clearer interpretation of motivated terrorist offenders. Overall, this thematic finding highlights disparities amongst respondents regarding cyber terrorist victims which could be due to the absence of an agreed upon definition and framework detailing what qualifies as a cyber terrorist act. Having a unanimous definition would, therefore, make a clearer distinction between victims and offenders of cyber terrorism.

Increase of Terrorist Online Presence

Another theme which emerged from the qualitative analysis was the way in which respondents emphasised how online capabilities have aided in expanding terrorist activity. P14 alluded to the notion that online platforms “help build a sense of community between members, assist in recruitment, and launch attacks”. Additionally, P15 highlighted the ability which terrorists have “to reach a global audience and form groups which reinforce each other”. There were concerns raised specifically regarding the impact which the COVID pandemic has had on terrorist activity. Although some participants highlighted the risk of terrorism as “lower than before due to COVID” (P16), others seemed to emphasise the advantageous aspects of COVID for terrorist activity as there being “more time to plan” (P17), and one participant nodded at cyber terrorism being “underreported” with the “true scale now being unknown but severe” (P18) due to its greater shift online.

It became evident throughout the qualitative data, that much of the sample population appeared to be mostly in agreement that the threat of terrorism posed through online capabilities is apparent. This is supported by the quantitative findings in Q10 and Q12 where ≥ 80% participants were in agreement that the cyber enabled and cyber dependent acts listed were classed as cyber terrorism. These results also support the findings from the literature review which found that terrorist activity is a process by which the smaller and perhaps less impactful activities are seen to have a domino effect on larger terrorist attacks [ 16 ]. For example, recruitment was identified by 12 participants throughout the qualitative responses which is a positive finding as it indicates that individuals are aware of its impact in the process of terrorist activity. In addition, this links back to the significant effect found on gender where males were more likely to rank recruitment and mobilisation higher than females in the quantitative results. Controversially to these findings, P19 stated that “terrorism, the act, is an offensive action, just recruitment and fundraising themselves are not terrorist acts” which was an opinion also raised by P20, P21 and P22. These qualitative findings highlight the presence of common misconceptions held by some individuals regarding cyber terrorism, which is supported by the findings from the literature review. The UK law in fact deems ‘Encouragement of Terrorism’ under The Terrorism Act 2006 [ 28 ] and ‘Finance and Money Laundering in relation to terrorism acts’ under The Terrorism Act 2000 [ 56 ], as common offences. Although it is positive that respondents appeared to mostly agree on cyber enabled and cyber dependent terrorist offences, the minority of people who did not agree could be only a small representation of the wider public.

In light of the aforementioned theme, the misunderstanding around terrorism offences could also be an attributing factor in causing the general public’s confusion around who is a victim or a perpetrator of cyber terrorism [ 18 , 30 ]. The public has a responsibility to report observed criminal activity, and if there is not enough awareness of cyber enabled and cyber dependent terrorism offences, this could have detrimental implications on the investigation and prosecution of cyber terrorist activity in the UK in line with the Action Counters Terrorism (ACT) campaign [ 112 ]. Understanding these detrimental effects of misconceptions amongst the general public, could suggest an urgent need for cyber terrorism to be unanimously defined incorporating both cyber enabled and cyber dependent aspects. Overall, these findings allude to the potential misconceptions held amongst the public regarding cyber terrorist activity; however, these cannot be generalised without replicating the study with the aim of gathering data from a larger sample population.

Regulation and Stakeholder Understanding

The qualitative analysis further highlighted a theme regarding the regulation of the internet and stakeholders’ involvement in this. The theme of regulation was not introduced to participants within the survey questions, unlike the previous themes, which perhaps highlights the importance of regulatory processes to the survey respondents, in the context of cyber terrorism. P23, in the context of online platforms, stated that these are “too free a space with little to no sense of regulation”, which was a popular opinion with other respondents using words such as moderation, monitor, and regulation on 19 occasions in the qualitative responses. The issue with the lack of regulation on online platforms was further identified by P24 stating “online platforms provide unchecked means of sharing material” and P25 further suggesting the notion of “rumoured safety measures in place”. Interestingly, positive connotations were not associated with regulation in the qualitative responses potentially indicating dissatisfaction regarding the current approaches to regulating online terrorist activity. This dissatisfaction could be a result of ambiguous guidelines on social media and online platform such as those referred to in qualitative responses—“Facebook” (P26 & P27) and “YouTube” (P28, P29, & P30).

YouTube guidelines state that terrorist organisations are not permitted to utilise their services to conduct a range of terrorist activity, for example, “praising or justifying violent acts carried out by a terrorist organisation” [ 113 ]. Facebook states that any entities, such as terrorist organisations, who engage in “serious offline harms” will be condemned alongside any content which praises, supports or represents terrorist organisations [ 114 ]. Problematically, these online platforms do not define the term ‘terrorism’. This means that when it comes to regulating and removing certain online content, the service providers can decide what is deemed terrorist or not according to their own perceptions. Looking at the recent conflict between Israel and Palestine, Hamas, a proscribed terrorist organisation [ 115 ], fired rockets into Israel from the Gaza strip due to political and religious differences [ 116 , 117 ]. At the time of these events, there was justification and condoning across online platforms for the violent actions directed at Israel from Hamas despite Hamas’ recognition as a terrorist organisation. Furthermore, media platforms such as YouTube and Facebook condemned Israel’s actions, and justification for their retaliation was taken down as ‘misinformation’. A more recent example is the Plymouth shooting. Jake Davison, who practiced hate speech against women, incited violence and spoke about his ‘incel’ (involuntary celibate) alignment on YouTube, killed five innocent individuals [ 118 , 119 ]. Davison had just short of 100 subscribers on his YouTube channel, and these were 100 missed opportunities to detect this terrorist activity prior to his online terrorist behaviour becoming a physical attack.

These unclear guidelines which are used to regulate online terrorist activity are evidently biased and counterproductive, which may be the reason for the dissatisfaction towards regulating cyber terrorism highlighted from some of the survey respondents. Furthermore, with repressed behaviour in physical environments due to the COVID pandemic [ 2 , 14 , 53 ], this may encourage online terrorist activity alongside the lack of collaborative regulation. The implications of this are that direct stakeholders involved in combatting online terrorist activity, including online platform providers and law enforcement, are perhaps not able to do so effectively due to the absence of a unanimously agreed upon definition. Perhaps a collaborative approach could ensure clearer regulatory guidelines and may further enable the future instalment of the draft Online Safety Bill [ 60 ] to be more effective.

Q13 from the survey found that 90% of respondents overall agreed that a definition could enable stakeholders to better understand cyber terrorism, in turn aiding in the detection and prevention of terrorist activity. Although this question only received 10 qualitative responses, ‘stakeholders’ were referred to in qualitative responses from other questions, with direct mentions being made of the police, policy makers, and online platforms. P31 stated that “If you don’t consider something a crime or a precursor to a crime, you won’t be looking for it” indicating that unless something is defined as a crime, it will not be identified and reported as such. Furthermore, P32 claimed that there is a need for stakeholders to “understand the objectives of the terrorist and the means used to execute their plans”. As discussed in the literature review, pre-curser crimes could include recruitment, training, or disseminating propaganda which are initial phases in the terrorist activity process [ 16 ]. Therefore, P31 and P32 could be implying that these pre-cursor terms are not clearly defined under cyber terrorism which perhaps indicates an absence of these activities not being policed effectively due to a lack of understanding of terrorist motivations. However, much of the regulation of the internet is controlled by the service providers, and therefore, a more collaborative approach from various stakeholders would perhaps be the most effective way to combat online terrorist activity. This collaborative approach would also ensure that public users of online platforms are safer and more aware of what they can report as terrorist activity, in turn countering future threats posed by terrorism.

Defining Cyber Terrorism

The survey asked participants to expand on how they would define cyber terrorism, and this question received the highest rate of responses from 75 participants. Some respondents classified cyber terrorism into binary models such as “hard and soft” (P33) and “enabled and dependent” (P34). Interestingly, of the 75 responses received for this question, only 40% incorporated terrorism that is both enabled by and dependent on cyber capabilities in their proposed definitions. The remaining 60% of respondents focussed on either cyber enabled or cyber dependent activity. This highlights the confusion that exists within the general public and could be reflective of the general misconceptions which exist, emphasising the need for a unanimous definition of cyber terrorism.

Respondents mostly used the ‘cyber’ prefix within their definitions, with fewer using terms such as ‘online’, ‘technology’, ‘internet’ and ‘virtual’. For example, P35 defined cyber terrorism as “terrorism that uses the cyber domain as a space to carry out its actions”, and P36 stated “cyber terrorism is when terrorist organisations enter cyber space and instrumentalise the internet to carry out violence”. However, P37 highlighted it as the “use of electronic interventions or resources to disrupt online systems or operations”. Despite Gordon and Ford’s [ 44 ] belief that the cyber prefix is not an effective term, the qualitative results find that this is a term which the respondents appear to be familiar with, which could be reflective of the general public’s views. Therefore, attempting to change the cyber prefix to something else, such as Computer Network Operations or Information Warfare [ 38 ], could potentially cause further confusion. These findings, coupled with the literature review, imply that a cyber terrorism definition could encapsulate a classification between enabled and dependent activity. The implications of a clearer definition, as discussed above in the aforementioned themes, would enable stakeholders including law enforcement, online platform providers, policy makers, and prosecution services to work collaboratively towards a unified goal. This may further enhance the public’s understanding of what they could be identifying and reporting in line with the ACT campaign [ 112 ].

Establishing a New Approach Towards Cyber Terrorism

In the context of the findings from the literature review and the collected primary data, this research posits a new definition and framework of cyber terrorism which could be utilised by stakeholders directly involved in preventing, detecting, investigating and prosecuting cyber terrorism.

Cyber Terrorism Definition

The development of a cyber terrorism definition aimed to gather the strengths of previously discussed definitions and incorporate them in a clear and more concise manner that can be easily understood. The most important factor which was considered for a cyber terrorism definition to be used by UK stakeholders, was the need for it to be compatible with the definition of Terrorism outlined in The Terrorism Act 2000 [ 56 ], The Terrorism Act 2006 [ 28 ], The Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 [ 29 ], and The Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019 [ 57 ]. In addition, themes from the Foltz [ 42 ], Holt [ 43 ], and Plotnek and Slay [ 45 ] definitions have been considered and prioritised for incorporation in this research’s proposed definition. Referring back to the literature review, terrorism as a concept evolves with the times, and henceforth, a cyber terrorism definition should be versatile to ensure its applicability to unpredictable future developments within terrorist techniques. Having identified the most critical components to develop a definition that is both concise and compatible with the legal definition of terrorism in the UK, (binary ‘means’ classification, motive, intent, and target) the following definition is proposed:

“Cyber terrorism encapsulates cyber enabled activity which intends to advance political, social, or religious ideologies against the public, and cyber dependent activity which further intends to threaten or facilitate damage against the public, properties, and/or systems. Cyber terrorism has the potential to coincide with traditional terrorism”.

As identified throughout this research, a clear definition of cyber terrorism could enable a more collaborative approach amongst stakeholders in preventing, detecting, investigating, and prosecuting cyber terrorism. Although this definition is not as lengthy and detailed as some of the other definitions analysed [ 41 , 43 , 45 ], the findings highlighted that a simpler definition with fewer clauses provides greater clarity, encouraging a more unanimous approach across various stakeholders. Overall, by having a clear definition outlined for those involved in detecting and preventing cyber terrorism, this could improve the way in which stakeholders combat the overall threat of terrorism, subsequently enabling the media to relay more accurate information to the public regarding cyber terrorist activity. This could in turn make the public more confident in identifying and reporting terrorist and cyber terrorist activity in line with ACT [ 112 ].

Cyber Terrorism Framework

The development of a framework for cyber terrorism aimed to clearly highlight what kind of terrorist activity occurs in cyber space, the process, and the links between traditional and cyber terrorism. Using the Smith et al. [ 16 ] categorisation of traditional terrorist activity, this research proposes a similar approach by incorporating McGuire and Dowling’s [ 7 ] cyber enabled and cyber dependent dual binary model. As this model has already been adopted by the Crown Prosecution Service to classify and prosecute cybercrimes, it is perhaps important that the same binary model be used to classify cyber terrorism for collaborative work amongst law enforcement and prosecuting services.

Based on this research’s proposed definition, a ternary approach is suggested as this highlights the inextricable links between traditional, cyber enabled and cyber dependent terrorism. A proposed ternary model can be seen in the Terrorist Activity Framework in Fig.  2 .

figure 2

Terrorist activity framework entailing cyber terrorism—developed from [ 7 , 16 ]. This figure displays a framework which highlights cyber terrorist activity’s life cycle. It highlights cyber enabled terrorist activity, cyber-dependent terrorist activity and traditional terrorist activity with arrows to show the links between these three components. This framework is put forward from this paper’s findings to better aid stakeholders in more collaboratively tackling terrorism

This cyber terrorism framework highlights the similarities across the three identified types of terrorism and further accentuates how each of them link into one another with the use of arrows. The different pathways all lead to examples of ‘terrorist acts’, however, it is important to acknowledge that the first three stages leading up to the fourth stage all have the potential to be occurring simultaneously. In addition, the first three stages in the cyber-enabled pathway have the opportunity to branch out to the fourth stage in the traditional and cyber dependent pathways as much of cyber-enabled activity can be supporting activity for the other pathways. It is further important to highlight that the ‘recruitment’ stage in traditional terrorism and cyber-enabled terrorism has the ability to remain active throughout the whole process as these activities are not specific to a single terrorist attack. Therefore, stakeholders should consider these ongoing background processes when detecting traditional terrorism and cyber terrorism. Although this framework is limited as it does not list every single type of terrorist offence under each pathway, it nonetheless highlights a few examples which can better inform law enforcement of the intricate relations between each pathway to improve investigative practices in countering terrorism.

Recommendations and Conclusion

This paper, and the research within, intended to contribute to current academic and professional discussion regarding cyber terrorism and how it is defined and understood amongst UK stakeholders involved in preventing, detecting, investigating and prosecuting cyber terrorism. Through critically analysing currently established definitions, theories and frameworks related to cyber terrorism, this research highlighted the problematic nature in the lack of a unanimous understanding. In light of this, a new cyber terrorism definition was proposed which incorporates cyber enabled and cyber dependant activity. Furthermore, by developing Smith et al.’s [ 16 ] terrorist activity process, this research proposed a potential ternary framework which could be utilised by UK stakeholders to gain a better understanding of cyber terrorist behaviours and their inextricable links to traditional terrorism. Although the definition and framework concisely define and classify cyber terrorism in light of the findings from the literature review and the primary data collection, further editing from stakeholders would be recommended to ensure complete compatibility with UK legislation, and stakeholder procedures. Subsequently, this research recommends that specific legislation regarding cyber terrorism be developed to support UK stakeholders in preventing, detecting, investigating and prosecuting cyber terrorist activity. Furthermore, although this paper specifically analysed the necessity for a definition and framework in context of the United Kingdom, this proposed definition and framework are nonetheless generic and could, therefore, potentially be adopted for use by other nations. In doing so, a more collaborative international approach could be established to increase the efficacy of countering cyber terrorist activity, overall better securing society from the risk of terrorism.

The secondary aim of this research was to determine what the public’s perception of cyber terrorism was through a mixed methods primary data collection approach. The quantitative data highlighted a gender effect on questions regarding recruitment as a cyber-enabled terrorist act, and stakeholder understanding in the context of combatting cyber terrorism. However, the rest of the quantitative data were non-significant and as a result of this, there was not sufficient evidence to substantiate some of the hypotheses surrounding demographic effect on topical questions. In light of the non-significant data, this research further recommends that the primary research be replicated and shared out to a wider audience to generate a larger sample population and determine whether the non-significant results from the primary data collection are due to type I or type II errors [ 90 , 103 ]. By gathering a clearer and more generalised understanding of the public’s views, UK stakeholders can better identify what the general public’s perception is, which could better inform clearer campaigns to educate the public on identifying and reporting cyber terrorist activity.

The literature review highlighted that news media outlets can have an effect on the way in which the public understand a matter, and analysis of the non-significant findings suggested that in the case of a type II error, this could be due to news media outlets’ gatekeeping role in disseminating information regarding cyber terrorism to the public [ 32 , 104 ]. Therefore, this research recommends that further research be carried out regarding the correlation between news media outlets which individuals read/listen to, and their perceptions of traditional and cyber terrorism.

Overall, this research has offered an insight into how cyber terrorism could be defined and classified for UK stakeholders as part of the search for the ‘holy grail’ [ 1 ]. This research specifically highlighted the importance of correlating a new definition and framework with UK legislation for enhanced compatibility and effectiveness. In current times with the COVID pandemic enabling the evolution of terrorist activity [ 2 ], it is ever more important to clearly understand and adapt stakeholder procedures in countering cyber terrorism in the UK.

Availability of Data and Material

Raw data not available.

Code Availability

Not applicable.

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Jangada Correia, V. An Explorative Study into the Importance of Defining and Classifying Cyber Terrorism in the United Kingdom. SN COMPUT. SCI. 3 , 84 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s42979-021-00962-5

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Anxiety, Depression and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder after Terrorist Attacks: A General Review of the Literature

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Terrorism, though not well-defined, is a violent act that has been shown to have longstanding effects on the mental health of those who witness it. The aim of this general literature review is to explore the effect that terrorism has on posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depressive disorder (MDD) and anxiety disorders, as well as the bio-psycho-social determinants that mediate its impact. This paper describes the prevalence, risk factors, protective factors, common presentations and interventions identified for PTSD, depression and anxiety disorders occurring following terrorist attacks. We conducted a literature search in MEDLINE using a number of keywords detailed below. After applying inclusion and exclusion criteria, we kept 80 articles, which we summarized in tabular form. A majority of articles found detailed the impact of terrorism on PTSD, and took place in a Western, mainly American setting. The main factors that impacted the presentation of mental illness include gender, ethnicity, social supports, socioeconomic status, level of preparedness, level of exposure, pre-existing trauma and mental illness, and subsequent life stressors. The main intervention detailed in this article as showing evidence post-terrorism is trauma-focused cognitive-behavioural therapy. This study highlights the importance of this topic, and in particular, its implications for public health policy and practice.

1. Introduction

There is no widely agreed upon definition of terrorism. In general terms, it is defined as an act of violence that is used to further a political goal by instilling fear into the public [ 1 , 2 ]. Though acts that could be defined as “terrorism” have occurred since the Roman Empire, the term was coined during the French Revolution [ 2 ]. Since the terrorist attack in New York City on 11 September 2001 (9/11), it is difficult to imagine a topic that has shaped global discourse as much as terrorism. In 2019, there were over 8300 terrorist attacks worldwide with about 25,000 fatalities from terrorism [ 2 ]. Over the course of the 21st century, fear of a terrorist attack occurring in proximity has grown, especially in the Western world. In 2018, over a third of individuals surveyed in countries such as Spain, Great Britain and Germany believed there would be an attack on home soil [ 3 ].

Academic interest in the association between terrorism and health, namely mental health, started in the late 90s. However, interest peaked following the 9/11 attacks. Most research centered around the newly christened diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the DSM-IV [ 4 ]. More than a decade later, research has also been done regarding the burden of other mental health conditions following a terrorist attack, such as major depressive disorder (MDD) and anxiety disorders; though to a lesser extent than PTSD [ 5 ]. Although there is an abundance of information and data on PTSD, anxiety disorders and MDD in other contexts, we are specifically curious regarding research in the context of terrorism.

This article presents a review of the recent literature on the topic. In this paper, we aim to describe the prevalence, risk factors and protective factors related to the development of PTSD, anxiety disorders and MDD in the face of a terrorist attack, as well as discuss distinct symptom presentations in this context and any specific screening or other interventions that may be useful. Finally, conclusions and recommendations will be discussed.

2. Materials and Methods

This article explores and describes the most recent evidence on the impacts of terrorism on mental health, as well as social determinants and interventions that may mediate its effect. The search for articles was mainly completed by a single examiner, though there was a second examiner who aided in reviewing the admissibility of articles that did not fully meet the inclusion criteria. This review was conducted on MEDLINE (1946-present via Ovid); search terms included the following:

“Terrorism”, “(terroris* or terror attack* or bioterrorism)”, “anxiety disorders/ or agoraphobia/ or anxiety, separation/ or neurotic disorders/ or obsessive compulsive disorder/ or hoarding disorder/ or panic disorder/ or phobic disorders/ or phobia, social/”, “((anxiety adj6 (disorder* or diagnos* or clinical* or illn*)) or obsessive compulsive disorder or OCD or panic disorder* or neurotic disorder* or hoarding disorder* specific phobia*)”, “depressive disorder/ or depressive disorder, major/ or depressive disorder, treatment-resistant/ or dysthymic disorder/”, “(depress* adj6 (disorder* or diagnos* or clinical* or illn* or major*))”, “stress disorders, post-traumatic/ or stress disorders, traumatic, acute/”, “(PTSD or PTSI or PTSS or ((posttraumatic or post traumatic or trauma*) adj1 (stress* or neurosis or neuroses or nightmare*)) or ((traumatic or acute) adj (stress disorder* or stress symptom*)) or (vicarious* adj2 trauma*))”.

This search yielded 1632 articles. When narrowing the search to articles published between 2015 and the date of our search (December 2020), 436 articles were found. Removing duplicates yielded 390. We then reviewed titles, removing 229 unrelated articles, and yielding 161. Then, we reviewed the abstracts, removing 81 unrelated articles and keeping a total of 80 articles. Inclusion criteria was that the articles needed to assess an adult population and the aim needed to be related to risk/vulnerability factors, protective factors, presentation, screening or interventions related to PTSD, anxiety disorders or MDD specifically in the context of terrorism. We excluded case studies, qualitative articles, reviews examining child and adolescent populations, papers focusing on outcomes that were out of the scope of this research article (e.g., medical comorbidities), ethical, philosophical, legal or commentary papers, and analyses of the mental health of perpetrators of attacks. In total, 80 articles met all inclusion criteria. These were retained and summarized for the study purpose.

The final 80 studies which met all inclusion criteria are summarized in Table 1 , Table 2 , Table 3 , Table 4 and Table 5 below.

Prevalence of mental disorders after terrorist attacks.

Risk factors for development of mental disorders after terrorist attacks.

Preventative and vulnerability factors against development of mental disorders after terrorist attacks.

Symptom clusters and illness trajectories.

Screening tools and interventions.

4. Discussion

4.1. posttraumatic stress disorder, 4.1.1. prevalence and risk factors.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is an outcome that is commonly explored throughout research on terrorism. In the general American and European population, 1-year prevalence is between 0.9–3.5% [ 84 ]. The articles featured in this review identify a higher prevalence of PTSD in individuals both directly and indirectly exposed to terrorist attacks. Given the increase in terrorism research that occurred post 9/11, the majority of the articles featured in this review assessed those populations. In direct survivors, the prevalence of PTSD has been found to be around 30% [ 74 ]. It reaches approximately 39% in the first 6 months, and slowly decreases to about 22% after 1 year [ 74 ]. The prevalence of PTSD without any comorbidities in survivors was found to be about 4.1%, even 14–15 years after the attack [ 54 ]. In traditional relief workers, such as first responders and rescue workers, prevalence for PTSD is lower in the first 3 years, and slowly climbs up to 10%, peaking approximately 5–6 years post-attack [ 10 , 73 ]. In non-traditional relief workers, such as volunteer workers, rates of PTSD are much higher, climbing to 21.9% [ 10 ]. The prevalence is about 23% in relatives or close friends of victims who were injured or killed in terrorist attacks [ 74 ].

Though there is not an abundance of articles examining the mental health effects of terrorism set in countries other than the U.S.A., some of these have been reviewed for this article. Certain communities showed higher proportions of PTSD, others lower. However, it can be challenging to compare the prevalence rates given that the level of exposure of the populations studied is heterogenous. In Nairobi, the prevalence of PTSD in survivors and rescue workers following the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombing was 22% which was found to be 2–4 times the rates following the Oklahoma City bombings [ 26 ]. In the 4–6 weeks following the Bardo museum attack in Tunis in 2015, one study found that 68.6% of museum works displayed posttraumatic stress symptoms [ 13 ]. Similarly, 5 months following the Qissa Khwani Bazaar bombing in Pakistan, 77% of direct survivors suffered moderate to severe PTSD [ 6 ]. Following the 2015 Ankara bombings in Turkey, one study found that PTSD prevalence in direct survivors was 24.7% [ 12 ]. In contrast, following the 2011 Oslo bombing, only 2% of trained professionals and 15% of unaffiliated volunteers developed PTSD [ 24 ]. In the first 10 to 34 months, individuals who were directly exposed showed a prevalence of PTSD evolving from 24% to 17%, while for those who were indirectly exposed it went from 4% to 2% [ 71 ]. In France, following the November 2015 Paris terrorist attacks, prevalence amongst resident physicians was 12.4% [ 16 ] and between 3.4–9.5% in other first responders [ 44 ].

Pre-attack risk factors to developing PTSD include being a woman, being of Asian or Hispanic decent (in the American context), having been exposed to a previous terror attack, experiencing a traumatic event in childhood or adulthood, having low social and educational status and having pre-existing psychiatric comorbidities [ 8 , 13 , 15 , 22 , 28 , 33 , 40 ]. One study found that a genetic polymorphism of the serotonin transporter (5-HTT (5-hydroxy tryptamine)] gene) may have led to higher rates of PTSD post 9/11 [ 45 ]. Personality characteristics associated with PTSD include negative affectivity, detachment and psychoticism, as well as less perceived self-efficacy [ 51 , 54 ]. In first responders, having only basic life-saving training versus more intermediate or advanced training, was found to be a risk factor for PTSD [ 31 ]. During the terrorist attack, the main predictors for developing PTSD are level of exposure [ 48 , 73 ], including experiencing high perceived threat and having witnessed a life-threatening injury [ 12 , 36 ]. Higher perceived threat is a predictor for developing PTSD even in individuals who did not directly witness the attacks [ 36 ]. Following the terrorist attack, having low social supports, comorbid depression, anxiety and alcohol use have been shown to be risk factors for developing PTSD [ 8 , 13 ]. Suffering a physical injury secondary to the terrorist attack, regardless of the severity of the injury, is one of the biggest predictors of developing severe PTSD [ 22 ].

Regarding first responders, having had only basic life-saving training, as opposed to intermediate or advanced training, as well as having to intervene on unsecured crime scenes, likely leading to higher fear of death, were found to be risk factors for developing PTSD [ 31 , 44 ]. Certain studies also commented on risk factors associated with increased severity of PTSD. These include low social integration into the community, higher level of exposure to the attack, job loss following the event, marital status, unmet mental health needs, low education and socio-economic status, being a female and being of Hispanic descent [ 27 , 42 , 52 , 60 ]. In regard to symptomatology and comorbidities, risk factors for more severe PTSD include having severe hyperarousal symptoms, experiencing bereavement, being injured by the attack, having a history of PTSD, depression or anxiety pre-attack, having other medical conditions diagnosed post-attack, higher levels of exposure to the attack and a lifetime trauma burden, especially post attack [ 27 , 42 , 60 ]. Finally, from a temperament perspective, using coping strategies such as substance use and avoidance, as well as callousness and perceptual dysregulation personality traits, can worsen the trajectory of the illness [ 51 , 60 ].

4.1.2. Protective Factors

When individuals and communities are exposed to terrorism, certain factors have been shown to protect against the development of mental illness. With regard to other forms of trauma, the general understanding is that adaptive coping strategies, greater social support and a sense of purpose are linked to lower PTSD symptoms [ 84 ]. These have similarly been shown to be protective factors in the context of terrorism exposure [ 60 ]. For first-line workers, feeling well prepared prior to the event, higher levels of training, feeling supported by leadership, lower role conflict, higher role clarity and predictability have shown to lead to lower rates of PTSD and less psychological distress [ 56 , 59 , 60 ]. More optimistic personality styles, benign styles of humour, perceived self-efficacy and the belief of having a life purpose all were traits that were associated with lower rates of psychological distress and post-traumatic symptomatology [ 54 , 55 , 57 , 60 ]. Individuals who employ problem solving and cognitive restructuring coping strategies were associated with fewer post-traumatic reactions and active coping skills distinguished between improving and chronic trajectories [ 60 , 62 ]. Finally, less severe emotional numbing symptoms was associated with higher rates of symptom recovery [ 27 ].

4.1.3. Symptom Clusters and Course of Illnesses

PTSD is often a chronic and highly disabling illness with an 18–50% recovery rate within the first 3–7 years. The four symptom clusters of PTSD include continuously reliving the traumatic event, persistent avoidance of stimuli related to the event, symptoms of emotional numbing and increased arousal response [ 84 , 85 ]. In first-line workers who intervened during terrorist attacks, especially volunteers, studies have shown that rates of PTSD continue to increase until a peak at 5–6 years post event. With regard to PTSD related to terrorism, even 6–7 years after the attack, 15–26% of direct victims continue to report PTSD symptoms [ 74 ]. Compared to other sources of PTSD, terrorism leads to a longer duration of illness (202 versus 92 months), with non-traditional workers showing the highest rates of chronic symptoms [ 67 , 75 ]. In one study, there was no statistically significant difference in the severity of symptoms between PTSD related to terrorism versus other forms of PTSD; however, higher avoidance symptoms were found, which is generally a severity marker [ 67 ]. However, one study out of Italy showed higher severity scores on the CAPS scale in terrorism than other forms of trauma [ 75 ]. When examining symptoms related to reliving the trauma, auditory reminders were the most frequently encountered and the most distressing [ 68 , 69 ]. One study found that the most central symptom seen in PTSD in the context of terrorism is feeling emotionally numb [ 66 ].

4.2. Major Depressive Disorder

Prevalence and risk factors.

There are less studies available that look into the impacts of terrorism on rates of MDD. Rates of new-onset MDD post 9/11 were 26% amongst individuals who were in the vicinity of the attacks, and 45% amongst those with a trauma-exposed close associate [ 21 ]. Rates of MDD amongst community members and rescue workers alike were found to be 15.3% 10–15 years post attack [ 19 ]. Prevalence of MDD 12 years post attack was found to be 17.2% for non-traditional rescue workers and 30.3% for police officers [ 10 ]. Another study suggested that the majority of individuals directly exposed to terrorism, do not suffer from MDD in isolation. Even 14–15 years after the attack, 6.8% had MDD alone while 8.9% had comorbid MDD and PTSD [ 54 ]. When looking at individuals meeting criteria for PTSD following a terrorist attack, 68.2% also had comorbid MDD [ 54 ]. Another study showed similar numbers, with a prevalence of MDD 14–15 years post-attack being 18.6%, and over half those cases being associated with a diagnosis of PTSD [ 5 ]. Once again, prevalence can vary when looking into communities around the world. In Tunisia, following the Bardo Museum terrorist attacks, 40.6% of museum employees endorsed depressive symptoms after 4–6 weeks [ 13 ]. Conversely, only 2.4% of resident physicians reported depressive symptoms after the 2015 terrorist attack in Paris [ 16 ].

There are a number of factors identified in the literature which may lead to certain individuals having a higher likelihood of developing MDD after a terrorist attack. In general, for those who were directly exposed or who lived in the vicinity of a terrorist attack, being less educated, of lower socio-economic status, unemployed and having lower social integration and support increase their risk [ 5 ]. Those factors, along with traumatic life events post terrorist attack and chronic physical illness decreased the likelihood of recovering from MDD [ 5 ]. In a Tunisian study, low social support seemed to be the best predictor for both PTSD and MDD symptoms in directly exposed individuals [ 13 ]. Regarding chronic symptoms of MDD in the American context, less social support as well as less perceived self-efficacy were risk factors [ 54 ].

Regarding the level of exposure, some evidence suggests that individuals who lost a loved one to a terrorist act are more than twice as likely as direct witnesses to develop MDD [ 21 ]. In Norway, parents of victims of the attack were three times more likely to develop MDD and anxiety than the general population [ 50 ]. Furthermore, parental emotional reaction worsened the more symptomatic their child became [ 38 ]. MDD appears to be related to the magnitude of the attack’s impact on daily life, as well as how connected an individual is to the community affected [ 21 ]. In those who are not directly exposed to the attack, some evidence suggests that MDD can manifest only when an individual identifies the victims as being similar to their loved ones [ 37 ]. In those who were neither directly exposed nor had a loved one who was exposed, increased TV viewing related to the attack increased the likelihood of developing MDD, but only when it was associated with a decrease in perceived safety [ 32 ]. Similarly, in Nigeria, individuals who scored higher on the Terrorism Catastrophizing Scale were more likely to express symptoms of MDD and anxiety [ 7 ].

4.3. Anxiety Disorders

Individuals having survived a terrorist attack, especially those having suffered physical injuries, appear to report higher rates of anxiety disorders than the general population [ 25 ]. In the 10–11 years following the 9/11 attacks, 5.8% of police officers at the scene displayed comorbid anxiety and PTSD, and 47.7% had comorbid MDD and anxiety disorder [ 8 ]. Following the 13 November 2015 terrorist attacks which took place in Paris, 11.2% of resident physicians reported anxiety disorders [ 16 ]. In Denmark, rates of anxiety disorders saw a 16% increase following the Oslo bombings, and a 4% increase following 9/11 [ 17 , 18 ].

As with MDD, a multitude of factors can increase a person’s chances of developing an anxiety disorder following a terrorist attack. Some factors, such as scoring high on the Terrorism Catastrophizing Scale or having a loved one who was exposed to the attack overlap with the risk of developing MDD [ 7 , 50 ]. In Europe following an ISIS truck attack, physical proximity to the event, ISIS anxiety and perception of danger increased the risk for psychological distress in general [ 41 ]. Not only is physical proximity an important factor, one study found that cultural proximity also led to increases in trauma and stressor related disorders following terrorism. After the Oslo attack, the population of Denmark saw a spike in these disorders, independent to media coverage, possibly because of cultural and geographic proximity to the victims [ 18 ]. Regarding symptom severity, the frequency of exposures to reminders of the attack can lead to a worsening of MDD and anxiety disorders, as well as a global decline in functioning [ 69 ]. Those who endured traumatic experiences in their adulthood, as well as recent life stressors, were at higher risk of worrying about future terrorist attacks [ 33 ].

4.4. Interventions

Prior to beginning this section, it is important to note that this paper is not a review of all treatment modalities. Comments on interventions are based off of the treatment modalities detailed in the articles sampled. Following a terrorist attack, one study showed that over 25% of individuals with PTSD or MDD had unmet mental healthcare needs over the last year [ 19 ]. Individuals who were more likely to seek out counselling were Caucasians, Hispanics, children at the time of the attack, those with higher levels of exposure, those who experienced peri-event panic attacks and those who had accessed counseling prior to the attack [ 79 ]. Individuals who were least likely to seek out mental health support after 9/11 were found to be African Americans, Asian Americans, those of lower educational or economic status, and those without a regular physician [ 79 ]. Similarly, a study out of the U.K. highlighted that 2/3 of individuals exposed to terrorism who were connected to mental health supports, did so via their family physician [ 76 ]. Of those who accessed mental healthcare, individuals who rated counseling to be helpful were likely female, African American, over the age of 65 or those with very high exposure [ 79 ]. A study following the Utoya massacre noted that early outreach programs provided benefit to exposed individuals with and without PTSD, MDD and anxiety disorders [ 78 ]. However, it highlighted challenges in reaching certain populations, specifically individuals in modern family structures and ethnic minorities [ 78 ]. It is important to consider new and innovative means of connecting both the population at large and hard to reach populations to services and supports following trauma. One such means that has been recently described in the literature is supportive text messaging [ 86 ]. By providing personalized support to patients, mobile phone technologies have been found to potentially improve the outcomes of a number of mental health conditions such as MDD and possibly PTSD [ 86 , 87 , 88 , 89 , 90 , 91 , 92 ]. Similarly, a study from the U.K. highlighted the benefits in a general screening program for PTSD, MDD, anxiety disorders and alcohol use following a terrorist attack [ 76 ].

Trauma-focused cognitive-behavioural therapy (T-f CBT) has been found to be the therapy of choice for PTSD in victims of terrorism [ 77 ]. According to the articles sampled in this review, there is less evidence available regarding treatments of other mental disorders in victims of terrorism, as well as in non-developed, non-Western countries [ 77 ]. One study from Madrid examined a sample of survivors of terrorist attacks that occurred an average of 23 years prior. After a course of t-f CBT, prevalence of PTSD went from 23% to 3.2%, and anxiety disorders went from 14% to 9.7% [ 80 ]. Following the course of t-f CBT, no participants were expressing symptoms of MDD or panic attacks [ 80 ]. Significant decreases in symptoms were still present at a 1-year follow-up [ 80 ].

Improving one’s tendency to forgive and social supports, as well as working on other positive coping strategies, have been noted as possible therapeutic interventions following a terrorist attack, as these have been found to lower levels of PTSD symptoms [ 82 ]. Debriefing, and other crisis interventions in the first 24–72 h following terrorist attacks have been shown to lower quality of life and lead to worsening of MDD and PTSD symptoms [ 81 , 93 ]. According to the reviews sampled in this study, it was noted that there is limited information on treatment of mental illness following a terrorist attack. There is especially a lack of randomized–controlled trials in this area. However, there is some evidence highlighting the benefits of exposure-based approaches including virtual reality (VR) technology, as well as the use of SSRI medications [ 73 ].

5. Limitations

This literature review has some limitations. Firstly, the vast majority of articles studying the impacts of terrorism on mental illness occurred in developed countries, specifically the U.S.A; particularly in the post 9/11 context. This is the case even though 95% of deaths caused by terrorism occur in the Middle-East, Africa and South Asia [ 2 ]. Furthermore, articles in languages other than English were excluded, which further reduces the ability to assess studies published in other cultural contexts. Thus, it begs the question as to how culturally and globally representative the data presented in this review is.

Secondly, this article consists of a general literature search, not a systematic review or scoping review. The authors did not use the PRISMA or PICO rules and triangulation method in the search for articles. It was mainly completed by a single examiner though there was a second reviewer who aided in reviewing the admissibility of articles that did not fully meet the inclusion and exclusion criteria previously agreed upon. In this study, only one database (MEDLINE) was used, which can introduce a bias towards medical sources and overlook non-medical, like psychological, literature. This method of reviewing the literature can introduce selection bias. As a result, it is presented as a qualitative summary of evidence found in a variety of articles. Notwithstanding the limitations of this review, it still provides an insightful overview of prevalence, risk factors, protective factors, symptomatology and possible management option of a mental illness in the context of terrorism.

Lastly, it is important to note the lack of a widely agreed upon definition of terrorism. Indeed, the decision to deem one violent act as a terrorist attack versus another can often be subjective and may be racially biased. In general, there is a Western bias when defining events as terrorism or not, particularly in the post-9/11 climate. This bias is likely to have been reflected in the present study.

6. Conclusions and Future Directions

It is challenging to identify a globally representative value for the prevalence of mental illness following a terrorist act, as the populations studied have been quite heterogeneous. In general, it appears that directly and highly exposed individuals with chronic physical sequelae following the incident, and underprepared (often volunteers) first-line workers, are populations with higher rates of PTSD. Populations that are geographically and culturally close to the victim population, as well as loved ones of victims, seem to have higher rates of MDD and anxiety disorders than the general population. Given that screening and outreach programs have been found to be effective in providing consistent mental health support to at risk populations, we wonder if on a systems level this would be needed to reduce negative outcomes following terrorism.

As mentioned, there are many studies that examine the impacts of terrorism on mental disorders, specifically looking at prevalence and short-term illness progression. However, there are few studies that perform longitudinal assessments of illness trajectories in individuals exposed to terrorist acts. Studies of that nature would likely offer valid and valuable contributions to the field, especially with regard to the course of illness, and elucidating which factors and populations may be more at risk for developing chronic pictures versus resolution of symptoms. There would also be a benefit in further exploring the impact of terrorism on MDD and anxiety disorders, as there is at this point much more research looking into PTSD.

In the studies sampled, it has been noted that, with regard to the study of treatments and interventions post-terrorism, there is limited information, especially with regard to a lack of randomized-control trials. Though there have been some interventions that have been validated in the management of terrorism-related mental illness, such as t-f CBT and SSRIs, more information is needed, especially in terms of long-term outcomes.

Though this was not a topic specifically covered by this study, considering risk factors for becoming a terrorist can be extremely clinically valuable in reducing harm. Given the tremendous impacts on mental illness that terrorist acts have on the general population, developing ways to detect someone’s risk of displaying terrorist behaviours is essential. Some papers have already compiled lists including social and clinical risk factors, and acts specific to terrorism that can be used as screening tools [ 94 ]. The UK’s counterterrorism strategy, CONTEST, which was established in 2003 is one such team that is looking into this. The Terrorism Radicalization Assessment Protocol (TRAP-18) has been identified as a tool that may be helpful for clinicians. Further research looking into risk and protective factors for becoming a terrorist may be useful [ 94 ].

It is important to note once more that this paper is a qualitative, general literature search as opposed to a systematic review or a scoping review. As mentioned, this can introduce significant bias in the information presented. As a result, we feel that future studies implementing scoping review or systematic review methods would be extremely useful to mitigate this bias.

Author Contributions

Conceptualization, C.R., A.O.S. and V.I.O.A.; methodology, C.R., A.O.S. and V.I.O.A.; writing—original draft preparation, C.R.; writing—review and editing, C.R., A.O.S. and V.I.O.A. supervision, A.O.S. and V.I.O.A. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.

This research received no external funding.

Institutional Review Board Statement

Not applicable.

Informed Consent Statement

Data availability statement, conflicts of interest.

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Publisher’s Note: MDPI stays neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

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